Since documenting his life-changing friendship with an 87-year-old nun in the memoir “Five Years in Heaven,” author John Schlimm has come to believe in “divine choreography.” And though the next project to which he was led may seem to be more earthly, the peace and love of God are present throughout his new book, “Extraordinary Dogs: Stories from Search and Rescue Dogs, Comfort Dogs, and Other Canine Heroes.”
The book consists of 40 essays profiling different dogs, along with lovable, heartwarming pictures of each canine, taken by co-author Liz Stavrinides.
During a “Christopher Closeup interview, Schlimm told me, “These dogs are doing some incredible works, and certainly the comfort dogs [from] a Christian organization. [Their handlers] believe that this is an extension of Jesus’ own work that they’re doing. And that bears out in the work that you see. They are going into some of the most tragic places on the planet: into schools after school shootings: Parkland, Newtown. The search and rescue dogs are going into places like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria…the mud slides out in California…You realize that not only are all of these dogs truly American treasures, but they are helping us to express the best of the human spirit and bringing light into lives that have been submerged into dark.”
For instance, Hannah is a golden retriever who is part of Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog ministry. Her handler is Barb Granado, and the two traveled to Boston following the Marathon bombings in 2013. Word spread that Hannah and other Comfort Dogs were at First Lutheran Church so people could simply hug them and interact with them.
As quoted in “Extraordinary Dogs,” Barb said, “Those affected by the bombing arrived at the church in tears and left with a smile. Then they came back again and again and again just to hug Hannah and all the other LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs who were there. They felt safe. They felt love from us and from the dogs. I can’t explain it to anyone other than to say we call these experiences God Moments. God uses us and our Comfort Dogs as instruments of his love. The dogs are the bridge. We are a presence, and it’s very special. We don’t preach, and we pray if people want to, but what we are more than anything else is a presence. And in those moments, God reveals his love and compassion. I’ve seen this happen every time I’ve gone somewhere with Hannah.”
Some of the dogs even have a Bible verse added to their name, such as Jacob Colossians 3:17, who traveled to Parkland, Florida, after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Schlimm explained that all the dogs “have been given a biblical name, and they all have their own Bible verse to go along with it. They take that along with them wherever they go in the world.”
Another dog doing unique work is named Ricochet, a golden retriever that is a champion surfer. Yes, you read that right. She’s a surf dog.
Schlimm said, “[Ricochet] is hard at work out in Southern California, and she is trained to take our veterans who are suffering from PTSD or injuries – as well as other people, including children who have various disabilities and mental health issues – she takes them surfing. She gets them on a surfboard, and she’s able to balance the surf board. And of course, there’s a larger team around her. But as you can see from the photos, she gives these individuals that wonderful moment of freedom being in those waves and going. She helps them to start or continue the healing process.”
Ultimately, Schlimm is happy that he was able to highlight stories of God’s creatures making a positive difference in the world. He said, “[The dogs’ work] is all about helping individuals to regain a sense of freedom and healing and normalcy in getting back into the world. It’s been so interesting…to see how these dogs have such a unique ability and a gift. Really a God-given gift that even we humans don’t have. These dogs are able to do for people who are suffering things that we, as much as we would like to, we can’t ourselves. To be able to witness that firsthand, as well as convey that through these stories – and hopefully these stories ripple out into the world and help other people to understand that or bring readers to that healing – that is just one of the great joys and blessings I feel I’ve been given in this life.”
(To listen to my full interview with John Schlimm, click on the podcast link):