Loudon County church gains first K-9 Comfort Dog
LOUDON, Tenn. (WVLT) -- An East Tennessee church has welcomed the newest member of its congregation. Her name is Jewel and she's comforting those in need.

At 14 months old, Jewel is still very much a playful puppy. Although she looks like a pet, she's a working dog at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church.

“We get the dogs when they're eight weeks old. They're pure bred Golden Retrievers, and we train them for their first year to the level of a service dog so they could perform certain tasks for an individual,” says Director of K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry Richard Martin.

Jewel is one of 80 dogs placed in churches across the country who belong to the K-9 Dog Ministry.

Martin says, “We use Golden Retrievers to be with people where they're at, so whether that's in disaster spots such as Newtown, Connecticut or recently in Napa, California we were with the victims of the earthquake in Napa."

She'll also go on school visits, stop at nursing homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities across East Tennessee.

Member of the church Steven Schoenherr says, "If there's a situation in the Knoxville area or even further out, we would be glad to go."

When Jewel isn't working her blue vest comes off and she stays with a caregiver, like Schoenherr. But even off the clock, she isn't a pet.

“She will never have food from the table, she will never be on furniture, she'll never be on the bed.”

As the first comfort dog in the state, Jewel officially started her ministry Sunday.

“We feel it's a great opportunity for our congregation to take the ministry outside of our campus here to people in East Tennessee,” adds Schoenherr.

K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry is a non-profit organization.