While volunteers have offered aid to Tropical Storm Harvey evacuees in Bell County, there may not be any who have garnered more attention than the four-legged volunteers who stopped by to offer a paw Wednesday at the Wilson Recreation Center.
Golden retrievers Abner, Pheobe and Pax are part of the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry from Lutheran Church Charities. Janice Marut was one of many volunteers escorting the animals to Bell County Wednesday.
“On a regular basis, we visit schools and nursing homes, but when there is a natural or manmade disaster, we can be deployed to go out and work in that,” Marut said.
Brazoria resident Lynette Pollard watched as her three small grandchildren played on the floor with the golden retrievers.
“I love any kind of animal. For me, having these dogs out here means a lot,” Pollard said. “Anytime somebody brings a dog in, (my grandchildren) look forward to it. They love to snuggle with the dogs, so it really helps.”
The dogs begin training when they’re 8 weeks old. They spend about 2,000 hours in training before they’re placed with a church when they’re about 14 months old.
Lutheran Church Charities, based in Illinois, has about 100 dogs placed throughout 23 states. Two of the dogs, Phoebe and Pax, are based out of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fort Worth while Abner is from Bethany Lutheran Church in Austin.
Marut said each church has several handlers that rotate taking care of the animals.
“We have multiple handlers that deal with them. They have to be able to live and train with different people so that the dog doesn’t come to follow one person. They have to respond to multiple handlers,” she said.
For Pollard, the dogs offered a few moments of relaxation after an otherwise hectic week. Pollard, her two daughters and five grandchildren evacuated from Brazoria County on Sunday.
“The ride up here was interesting. We couldn’t stop to use the restroom or eat because everything was closed,” Pollard said.
The family arrived in Belton at about 8 p.m. Sunday and weren’t sure where to turn next. They stopped to eat at Mi Pueblo Restaurant at 500 S. Main St. in Belton and were immediately met with hospitality.
“We went up to the register to pay and the cashier said, ‘Your total will be $31. 24.’ I thought, that can’t be ours,” Pollard said.
Pollard learned that the person in line ahead of her offered to pay for half of the family’s meal.
“Then the cashier stepped aside to talk to another gentleman. He came back up and I tried to pay, but he told me the man paid for the other half,” Pollard said.
Though the future for families like the Pollards is uncertain, Marut hopes the animals will provide respite from otherwise chaotic circumstances.
“It means a lot to us. We get a lot out of it ourselves, but we’re hoping to provide great comfort and peace to them in a very turbulent situation,” Marut said.