It has been a while, but I am back. The last time we posted a column for the newsletter was in March of 2020. The time has been long and the world as changed and it is good to do something that feels “normal” again. I love you and I have missed you.
Being a comfort dog is one of the most interesting jobs in the whole world. It is Friday, May 28th and Carb Day, two days before the 2021 Indianapolis 500 race, and I’m sitting here with 5 of my best friends. We are all wearing matching checkered race flag bandanas and waiting in a building next to the Pagoda at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indy cars are in full throat outside and the “noise from the cars was not the deep rumble from long ago, but a much quieter sound with more power” said Dave Wallis, handler for Mercy K-9. The 2019 Indianapolis 500 Champion and 2016 INDYCAR Series Champion, dressed in his racing suit, is petting me! I like Simon Pagenaud #22, he is a dog person.
My friends and I were invited to the speedway by Simon and his sponsor, Julius K-9, to thank us for our efforts on behalf of the survivors of the FedEx tragedy. We dogs and our support staff are present to raise awareness for what the over 130 LCC Comfort Dog church ministries in 26 states are doing in their communities. Simon was very touched by our ministry and wanted to meet us personally to say thank you.
I’m not sure what Simon is saying because the man has a French accent. Somebody said he specifically is thanking our ministry for the work we dogs and the handlers performed after the terrible event that occurred at the Indianapolis FedEx ground terminal building in April. Eight employees were killed and four wounded. FedEx had fired the shooter and he came back to extract a sordid revenge. Simon pets me on the head and keeps saying “jolie petite dame” (English translation: Pretty little lady) as he stands above me and smiles. This is the only time in my life that I wanted to be a French poodle.
Our teams came from Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois and arrived on the Friday after the shootings. That night we went to a hotel where survivor’s families were staying only to find out the police had moved them to another location because of fear the media would find out where they were staying. The Red Cross warned us to stay out of sight at the next hotel so nobody could put the comfort dogs together with the survivors. The next day at yet another hotel we met with some of the survivors and representatives from FedEx. The meeting was quiet and sobering.
The teams spent the rest of the week visiting survivors of the massacre and their families. We attended two prayer vigils: one at Krannert Park and another in Beach Grove. We heard speeches from family members, FedEx employees, the mayor, police chief, and community speakers. The grief of the FedEx employees was overwhelming and genuine. Some of these people actually saw their friends shoot. It is hard to imagine being put in such a situation and how one handles his or her self. In addition, we also visited families awaiting the news of their loved ones. The police put a lockdown on all news coverage and allowed nobody to enter the terminal building. Also, we visited with first responders and local churches. We were surprised when the coroner’s office asked us in. These poor people need some comfort; they never have a good day on the job. To be honest this place smells bad, some of the dogs did not like the building at all. Fortunately, the smell did not bother me. We went to the Coroner’s Office twice that week. Also on the schedule was the 911 call center, 2 fire stations, and Eskenazi Hospital (they invited us to come back on a regular basis).
My comfort dog friends, K-9 Benjamin, K-9 Emma, K-9 Hannah, K-9 Jared, K-9 Mercy, and I were the teams on that deployment. I should explain at this point that we all work for Lutheran Church Charities and our mission is to share the mercy, compassion, presence, and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those suffering and in need. My job consists of finding a sad person and letting them pet me for hours on end, or as long as it takes. I break the ice and my human handlers listen, encourage, and pray with them. This is one of God’s best business plans to date.
At the speedway, we spent our time prior to our press conference meeting and mingling with IMS visitors and staff bringing joy and comfort to whomever we encountered. They were very happy to see us! The weather was nice so we spent a lot of time visiting with people in the open areas in the middle of the track. Yes, we got to go through the tunnel entrance to the infield! We could hear the cars going by and see how car #22 was doing on the big screens. During this time, there were many God moments where we got to connect with people that needed the Comfort Dogs to be in that place at that time. When the rain started to settle in, the security people let us move into one of the merchandise stores to keep dry. Both the staff and the shoppers were so welcoming!
We then meet Simon. He is so incredibly nice. He made sure to spend time petting each comfort dog, addressing each of us by name and telling us how much our work met to him. Simon and Tim Hetzner, President/CEO of Lutheran Church Charities, then went on to do several media interviews with us present. Simon and his sponsor, Julius K-9, then presented LCC with a check for $5,000 and a basket of dog friendly items. So sweet! We then visited with over 80 media people who have been at the IMS for over a week. They really appreciated getting to hug us!
“My wife Hailey and I are fortunate to have a great partner like Julius-K9 who shares our passion for supporting organizations that make a difference in communities,” said Pagenaud. “We learned of the wonderful work that the LCC K-9 Ministries is doing and we’re honored to be able to recognize them for their incredible work.”
Before we headed out to dinner at a former Chicago comfort dog family’s home in New Palestine, we got to visit with a family that just happened to be in the lobby of the hotel when we were getting ready to leave. Their young daughter has cerebral palsy and was having a very bad day. Nothing makes a bad day better (for child and parents) than laying on a comfort dog. There were smiles all around. Then it was off to play time (and pizza) after a good day’s work.
When our day ended, we had spent twelve hours on duty.
[Update on Naomi contributed by Kimberly Richey, Larry and Kathy Megazzi.]