Rochelle native Soost, K9 Comfort Dog Peace visit RCH and The Hub City
LCC K9 Comfort Dogs respond to schools, hospitals, disaster areas
ROCHELLE — Last week, Paul Soost of Lutheran Church Charities K9 Comfort Dog Ministry brought Peace to Rochelle Community Hospital employees.
Soost grew up in Rochelle. He now lives in Orlando and was back in the area for the national LCC K9 Comfort Dog Ministry Conference in Northbrook, Illinois. Peace, of course, is a 6.5-year-old purebred golden retriever service dog who has worked to bring comfort to those that need it for five years.
“We went to see the staff,” Soost said of the July 25 visit to RCH. “We know that healthcare providers and first responders have very stressful jobs. We wanted to be able to provide some comfort and relief to the staff at RCH. We went from department to department spending time with the staff in each of the areas. Two of the LCC comfort dogs that are more local have visited RCH in the past. We wanted to take the opportunity to bring Peace to them.”
LCC K9 Comfort Dog Ministry started in 2008. It currently has about 130 dogs in 27 states that do what Peace does. The national human care ministry embraces the nature and skills of golden retrievers.
On a day-to-day basis, Soost and Peace will visit schools, nursing homes, hospitals, fire and police stations and anywhere else that they’re invited to provide comfort. In times of natural or man-made disasters, Peace and dogs like her are deployed in small groups or as part of a team to provide comfort on a larger scale. Rochelle had comfort dogs that came to town in 2015 after the EF4 tornado hit the area.
Peace and Soost has responded to three hurricanes, twice in Florida and once in Elberta, Alabama, to provide comfort to families affected by them. Most recently, they were in Ft. Myers, Florida after Hurricane Ian hit.
In July 2021, the pair were in Surfside, Florida after a condo collapse. Peace was part of a team of dogs there to provide comfort. She and Soost primarily focused on first responders, and met with fire and rescue teams after their 12-hour shifts in recovery efforts.
Peace was also deployed twice to Uvalde, Texas following the school shooting that took place there.
“We deployed last September when the kids were getting ready to go back to school,” Soost said. “We went for one week and were part of a three-week mission to provide comfort to the students as they came back to school for the first time after the shooting. We were just back in Uvalde in May for the one-year remembrance of the school shooting.”
Soost’s church, Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Orlando, learned about the LCC K9 Comfort Dog Ministry after the shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando where 49 lives were lost. Soost and his church saw the 12 comfort dogs that came to the city for two weeks to provide comfort, as they were home based on their campus.
“We saw the dogs and teams in action and were able to talk with and learn from them,” Soost said. “We could truly see the impact that the dogs had with people that were grieving. We wanted to get involved with this ministry. We put in a request to get a dog and Peace came in on July 1, 2018 at 18 months old. I have five members on my team and seven on my ministry team for a total of 12.”
Soost called his and Peace’s work “a real blessing” and said he enjoys helping to provide a moment of relief for those going through tough times. He said LCC K9 Comfort Dog Ministry loves developing relationships with communities that have gone through tragedies and the support doesn’t end when dogs and handlers leave.
“At our conference one of our surprise guests was our primary contact from the Uvalde school district,” Soost said. “She had come in to thank the teams that had deployed and just to share a little bit of the progress and the steps they've made in recovering and healing. They'll never be completely the same, but knowing that we're a small part of their healing and helping them get through on a day-to-day basis is so meaningful and rewarding.”
Soost believes the work was a calling for him. He recalled a day when he took Peace to a school in Ft. Myers where a student’s father had recently passed away.
“We went into the second grade classroom and the kids were sitting in a circle in the middle of the room,” Soost said. “Peace kept trying to get into the circle and I kept trying to slow her down. She walked in between two kids and laid down and put her head on one boy’s lap. I saw the teacher had tears in her eyes, and she said that was the student who lost their father. The dogs just have this natural sense of who needs them. To see that boy smile, knowing the grief and pain that he'd gone through, was so heartwarming and confirms why we do what we do on a day-to-day basis.”