Rosie is ready. The newest member of the ministry team at Atonement Lutheran Church on the Northwest Side comes fully equipped with four legs, a soft gold coat, shiny wet nose and mild brown eyes that seem to say, "It's going to be all right."
The 15-month-old golden retriever is an official K-9 Comfort Dog, the first of her kind to be assigned in Ohio through Lutheran Church Charities, based in the Chicago suburb of Addison, Ill.
The nonprofit ministry launched the comfort dog program in 2008 and has placed more than 70 of the trained service animals in 11 states.
"Her primary role is going to be reaching out to our neighbors near and far so our team of church members can go out and find people who are hurting in life and provide their own kind of creature comfort," the Rev. Brian Larson of Atonement Lutheran said last week. "Really, (Rosie) is kind of a bridge between our church and the community that we continually want to serve.
"This ministry is not a dog ministry -- it's a people ministry that makes use of a great dog," he said.
"It really is centered around how we can reach out to people in need."
Church member Mary Ludlum, who retired last August after a 32-year career with the Grandview Heights Public Library, the last five as director, will serve as coordinator of the program.
She plans to bring Rosie to schools, including Atonement Lutheran's own preschool, nursing homes and other locales where she can offer the special comfort that can come from a good, calm dog.
"I am newly retired and so I have time, and I'm very committed to community service," Ludlum said.
"This ministry is all about working in the community and bringing Jesus' mercy and compassion to the community, so it seemed a natural fit."
Members of Atonement Lutheran are urged to engage friends and neighbors in conversation and offer them encouragement and comfort as part of their faith, Larson said.
With Rosie by their side, that mission takes on added meaning.
"People stop in their tracks and they want to see her and greet her, and every now and then, it's someone we can help in life," Larson said.
Atonement Lutheran came to be the first Ohio church to be assigned a comfort dog because the Rev. Phil Esala, a member, is on the staff of Lutheran Church Charities, Larson said.
Esala mentioned the comfort dog program when he joined.
"We just got real excited about it," Larson recalled.
Ludlum, who attended three training sessions and also the annual comfort dog conference in Illinois, said Rosie lives with another family, but she and her husband, Dan Ludlum, a retired Upper Arlington High School teacher, are both trained as handlers.
A team of about 20 church members serve as Rosie's handlers, caregivers and visit helpers.
Rosie has exactly what it takes to offer comfort to the afflicted, Mary Ludlum said.
"She is very calm," she said.
"One of the incredible things is when she is working, and that means she has her vest on, she is as calm as can be," Ludlum said.
"I just think her eyes are filled with compassion. She's the kind of dog you just want to hug and pet.
"When she's not working, she does a lot of playing.
"In reality, it's working to keep her healthy. She is sweet."
Rosie has been a big hit with Atonement Lutheran Preschool children.
"She works great with adults, too," Larson said, "but, man, does she just take the attention kids give and helps to take their stresses out and provide a calming influence."
"It is really a joy to see her interact with kids," Mary Ludlum said.
"She obviously is very comfortable with children talking to her, showing her things, petting her."
Rosie, in addition to visits to the preschool, will make weekly trips to the Abbington of Arlington Assisted Living facility on Old Henderson Road, the program coordinator said.
"It's just all about them interacting with Rosie, but also giving them an opportunity for prayer," Ludlum said.
Rosie also goes on occasional field trips, as she did last week at Northstar Cafe in Clintonville, to meet and greet people.
"We will just be seeking out a variety of places," Ludlum said. "It's where the doors open."
LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs have also been on hand for crisis situations, including the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the Boston Marathon bombing and several areas damaged by tornadoes.
Visits by Rosie can be scheduled by calling Atonement Lutheran Church, 1621 Francisco Road, at 614-451-1880.