Eddie the Comfort Dog helps people with memory loss

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - A local comfort dog is helping to bring back some fond memories for people with dementia.

Eddie the Comfort Dog is trained in Grand Island. He made a special visit to the CountryHouse Thursday afternoon.

Eddie hops up on an ottoman in the middle of a room, and residents sit in a circle around him. They can pet him, or just sit back and enjoy Eddie's presence.

One resident said Eddie reminds her of times spent with her dog Patches.

"Some people don't know how helpful it is to see a nice, gentle dog," said Dorothy Schwieger, a resident at CountryHouse. "Makes you feel comfortable, I would say. He's just a nice, gentle dog. Very well trained. I think it's nice to have a nicely trained dog too."

While Eddie is there, residents will ask his handler questions. Some people asked how old Eddie is, if he gets treats and where he usually sleeps.

Staff at the CountryHouse said this can help the resident's memories, and can even bring back some old ones.

"It has sparked many conversations about those folks that had pets, and they get to share about their pet. It sparks those pleasurable memories that they get to relive," said Brenda Wiltfong, program services at CountryHouse.

Eddie is one of five comfort dogs being trained in Grand Island with the Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dogs. Training apprentices work with them for about two hours once a week on Thursday evenings.

All the dogs are golden retrievers. When they're young, the trainers start with house training. They then move on to obedience training. The dogs are taught to not bark or lick people.

One man has been training the dogs at Peace Lutheran for the past two years. Adam Brosz said his family became interested in trying it out after a Trunk-Or-Treat event at the church.

He said the dogs live at their house on a rotating schedule every other week. Brosz said it's a lot of time and commitment, but his family has enjoyed it every step of the way.

"Once these dogs get mature enough, and trained well enough, you can take them anywhere," said Adam Brosz, an apprentice trainer. "They become sort of part of your family, and ultimately when they leave here, they become part of a church family somewhere."

But it isn't all work for the dogs. Once the vest comes off, they get to run around and play with each other.

Unlike therapy dogs, comfort dogs have multiple handlers. This helps the trainers not get too attached to the dogs once they have to move on, and also helps the dogs knowing how to interact with a lot of people.

"They'll walk into a room and the dog seems to know. They'll go right to that person. Sometimes the handler will say, "I was really surprised. I came in and right away that dog veered off to the side and went right to this kid," or right to that human," said Lucy Kerby, a professional instructor with Lutheran Church Charity Dog Training.

The dogs will all know 30 commands once they're done with their training.

Once they've completed training, they'll be sent to a Peace Lutheran Church in Nebraska. Some of the younger dogs they have still need a few more months to go before that happens.

Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dogs is looking for more training apprentices in Grand Island for a new batch of dogs that'll be arriving in a few months.

There's going to be an informational meeting on being a training apprentice at 7 p.m. Monday at Peace Lutheran Church.

If you're interested in getting more information on how you can be a training apprentice, you can call Peace Lutheran Church at 308-380-9875 or email moe@lutheranchurchcharities.org.