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October 23, 2022 - 00:00
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Comfort dog Miriam, team showing the love

    LABOR OF LOVE —Two trips to comfort the children and families in Uvalde, Texas, may not have been Miriam’s only missions over the last two years, but they were certainly among the most intense for her team. Above left, Miriam with team members J. Juan

There’s something about unconditional love that makes hard days a little brighter.

Only two years into her ministry, Miriam, Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog, has brightened many days of countless children and adults of all ages.

In the fall of 2020, the gentle golden retriever joined her team of handlers at Kingfisher Emmanuel Lutheran Church…just in time for the pandemic.

Although the pandemic slowed the start of her ministry, Miriam has since shared many hugs and comfort with hurting and lonely people both locally and beyond Oklahoma.

Trained to provide comfort to people in times of crisis, Miriam and members of her team, along with other LCC K-9 comfort dogs, were called to Uvalde, Texas, in May after the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School.

As the community struggled to comprehend and grieve the tragedy that took the lives of 19 students and two teachers and injured others, a surge of comfort dogs and their teams set up in the town square.

The teams set up Hearts of Mercy and Compassion, Crosses for Losses, a companion ministry of LCC, for each life lost with each individual’s name and a Bible verse handwritten on every cross, Keith Leimbach said.

Miriam and the other comfort dogs were present as members of the community gathered for a vigil and searched for the names of their friends and loved ones to write notes of love and remembrance on the crosses which were presented to the families.

Messages of love and prayers quickly covered the crosses and the square became a memorial of love filled with balloons, flowers and stuffed animals, Leimbach said.

Some people silently petted or hugged Miriam, while for others, her calming presence opened the door to share their stories, he said.

“We listened to stories and prayed with many people,” Leimbach said.

As their time in Uvalde ended, Miriam and the other dogs returned home to continue their ministries, but also had the opportunity to return in September as the students began a new school year.

Administrators of the Uvalde Public School District requested the LCC K-9 ministry’s return to provide comfort and help ease the transition of students’ return to classes.

Enveloping the students, teachers, counselors, administrators and parents in love, LCC sent three waves of comfort dogs to be with the students for the first three weeks of school.

A total of 29 dogs were involved and Miriam was part of the last group of dogs to arrive.

“They were very happy to see us,” Leimbach said.

The community is still hurting and the school district has implemented many measures to ease anxiety and increase security, including erecting fences and adding the presence of five troopers at each of the district’s nine schools, Leimbach added.

“Their normal is totally broken and they have to develop a new normal,” he said.

During the week, Miriam helped provide a calming presence and walked alongside students at the high school, including those who lost siblings in the tragedy, parents and teachers as they began a new chapter, Leimbach said.

“Having the dogs there made it a little easier,” he added.

Sometimes it was a fun distraction for the students as it became a popular game to try to collect each dog’s business card with the dog’s information and a Bible verse, as if they were trading baseball cards, Leimbach said.

Miriam was also available in the hallways between classes for a “pet and run” time, he added.

After Miriam returned home, she celebrated both her fourth birthday and second anniversary of joining Emmanuel Lutheran Church.

During the past two years, Miriam has been busy ministering to the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living centers, at Kingfisher Compassion Clinic, in juvenile court settings, with homeless ministries and at a boys’ home in Norman as well as other places.

Leimbach said the ministry has grown with many positive results and they receive many blessings in return from those they serve.

Miriam and her team were also present with two other LCC comfort dogs at the Tishomingo Public School prayer vigil in April after six students were killed in a car accident as well as at Kingfisher High School after a student’s death.

As a “comfort dog,” Leimbach said, Miriam is there to provide comfort no matter the situation, also opening doors to show God’s love to people.

“We aren’t there to preach, but to comfort whoever needs it and let people talk while we listen,” he said.

Always looking for ways to serve and give back, Miriam and Emmanuel Lutheran Church are sponsoring Miriam’s Fun Run & Walk Saturday, Oct. 29, to benefit Kingfisher Meals on Wheels.

The event will begin at 10 a.m. at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 124 W. Douglas Ave.

For more information, check out Miriam the Comfort Dog - Fun Run & Walk for Meals on Wheels on Facebook.

Working alongside Miriam are eight handlers including Leimbach, J. Juan and Denise Jech, Roger and Susan Post, Rev. Tim and Heather McCarty and Mickie Post as well as 13 ministry partners who are dedicated to serving others. Miriam is available to “comfort whoever needs it,” Leimbach said, “but we only go where we’re invited and if there’s a need, please contact us.

“We want people to see God in us and through Miriam and to know we’re here to serve.”