Canine comfort: Geist couple, church help others with Comfort Dog Naomi
By Sadie Hunter
An Illinois-based group, Lutheran Church Charities, is making a difference in the Geist area in a unique way – with a comfort dog.
Holy Cross Lutheran Church, off of Oaklandon Road, has been getting out in the community with their comfort dog, Naomi. Caretaker Kathy Megazzi, administrator of the Comfort Dog program at the church, is Naomi’s caretaker with the help of her husband, Larry. Megazzi also is a teacher at the church’s school, teaching math, science and general education to fourth- and fifth-graders. Naomi attends school with her each day.
“We have had her since July (2016). We got her when she was 15 months old,” Megazzi said. “Lutheran Church Charities, where we purchased her from, has been going on since 1947, and Comfort Dogs started in 2008 after the Northern Illinois University shooting.
“The program was founded because the president of LCC realized that dogs break down inhibitions of people,” Megazzi said. “They can be very comforting. There’s nothing like petting the dog. They sense our needs, and that’s something that, even when Naomi was a puppy, she has been able to do.”
Naomi is different from a service dog, which are specifically trained to provide assistance to a single individual. Naomi is trained to serve multiple people, including the public. Busy nearly every day, Naomi visits hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, libraries, police and fire departments and more.
All of LCC’s comfort dogs are purebred golden retrievers, a breed Megazzi has had experience with.
“When I was young and in 4-H, I trained guide dog puppies for the blind. So I’ve kind of always had a desire to help people with dogs,” said Megazzi, who added she believes God led her to Naomi and the Comfort Dog program.
“As a teacher here at the school, I was cleaning my classroom floor and found a business card. Another Comfort Dog had come to visit the kids in the after-care program and had passed out her business card (something each comfort dog carries with them). So one of my students had it in her desk, and it must have dropped on the floor.”
From there, she said she took the card, noticing the golden retriever, and began researching the program and sharing the information with the pastor of the church, who told her to “go for it.”
Many churches can’t tout that they have a dog on staff, but because she was purchased by the church from LCC and provides a service to the church’s members and the local community, Megazzi said she is considered a staff member.
“In fact, in the whole state of Indiana, there are only four (three in Portage) dogs, including Naomi,” Megazzi said. “We’re in 23 states, and there are over 130 dogs. Because it just started in 2008, there aren’t a lot of them. It takes 15 months to train the dogs.”
Training includes 2,000-plus hours of service, where they learn basic obedience, 34 specific commands, housebreaking, socialization and more.
“The ministry is about connecting with people. We use Naomi as a bridge to kind of draw people to us, and then we can talk,” Megazzi said. “In addition to that, she’s taken to places like Lowe’s to socialize. She goes to church every Sunday, and anywhere where there would be people who are sad, lonely, in pain or needing comfort.”
LCC’s KARE 9 MILITARY MINISTRY
In addition to providing comfort services to the general public, Naomi is specially trained to serve veterans, active military and their families in a variety of ways, including:
- Yellow-ribbon reintegration events
- Military stand-downs
- Vising VA hospitals and medical centers
- Taking part in holidays (Veterans Day, Memorial Day events, etc.)
- Visiting veterans in their homes
- Attending VFW, American Legion and AmVet events
For more, visit kare9.org.
CONNECT WITH NAOMI