BURRILLVILLE – It’s a mystery to owner Deborah Horner, but Finnegan, her golden retriever, has a way of finding those in need of the specific type of comfort that only a dog can provide.
The pooch, one of more than 20 dogs that works with the Southeastern MA Paws of Comfort Lions, visited Uncle Ronnie’s Red Tavern on Wednesday, May 19 to attend a meeting of the Burrillville Lions Club.
Founders of the program, the first Lions group of its kind, spoke about efforts with their canine companions, with visits to nursing homes, churches, or anywhere else that they’re needed.
On one such visit, to a school in a town where a young boy had recently died, Finnegan worked his magic.
“Unbeknownst to me, when the kids were sitting around, he would pick out one student in that class and put his head on their lap,” said Horner. “I couldn’t understand why.”
The dog visited eight classes that day, and after the sixth, Horner, co-founder of the program, said the assistant principal called her over.
“Each one of those students either lived in the cul-de-sac where that young man passed away, or was best friends with the boy,” she said. “I was really kind of in awe at that point. It’s just incredible what the dogs do.”
The group, a branch of the District 33S Lions Club that serves Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands, was formally organized last year, and has since helped to organize a second Lions Paws Club. The unique program allows people’s personal pets to work with trainers registered with the American Kennel Club to become comfort and/or therapy dogs.
“They learn how to interact with people in wheelchairs, people with crutches,” said trainer Lori. “To be part of the club that is one requirement, because we have to know that they’re going to be good in a public setting.”
Some of the dog don’t make the cut, but organizers said they’re alway willing to try. And they say that often, the results are nothing short of amazing.
Monique Tedino, the other co-founder of SEMPOC, told the story of a visit to another school in Massachusetts, where a five-year-old boy walked over and laid his head on one of the dogs.
“He was stroking her. He was crying, ‘I miss my brother,'” said Tedino. “It was everything I could do not to cry.”
“Within five minutes he kissed her. Off he went off playing with his friends. And I thought – ‘did that dog just do that?'” Tedino said. “It was a miracle: one extreme to another. I was a convert right there.”
Their group has already attracted more than 40 members, and the women said they hope to launch similar Lions divisions throughout New England.
“We touch people’s lives as Lions, but this club has a different way of touching people’s lives now,” Horner said. “I try to sell us, but really, it’s all about the dogs.”
The club members said they’re also willing to bring their dogs back to the area, wherever they might be needed.
View the full video from the group’s visit by following the Burrillville Lions Facebook page.
Anyone interested in having the dogs visit can contact the club at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the group, visit their website at pawsofcomfort.com or follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SEMPawsofComfort .
Editor’s note: Publisher Sandy Seoane is a member of the Burrillville Lions Club.