A Lutheran minister and his dog have traveled from Portage, Illinois (just outside Chicago) to Moore, Oklahoma to comfort victims from the calamitous, two-mile wide EF-5 tornado that ravaged the area and left a 17-mile path of destruction in its wake.
“He lives with another family at our church and I pick him up for work every day,” Reverend Tim Engel said.
Engel is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, and together with his parishioner’s dog, Barnabas, travel to sites of devastation to help those in need of mental, emotional and spiritual support.
K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, sponsored by Lutheran Church Charities, sent six trained therapy dogs and seven volunteers from Illinois and Indiana with Engel to the Oklahoma area that saw 24 people die, and an elementary school decimated.
“We saw neighborhoods utterly destroyed,” said Engel. “Those homes represent families whose homes have been lost… You see children’s toys blown across front lawns.”
The group visited a hospital, meeting a teacher who sustained injuries in order to protect three children as the tornado touched down at Plaza Towers Elementary.
Barnabas, whose name means “encourager,” brought relaxation and contentment to many while they shared their harrowing experiences. He and the rest of the group will be visiting the Children’s Hospital at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, as well as the University of Oklahoma, where many of the disaster victims have sought refuge while they rebuild their lives.
The group and their dogs will also be providing comfort to the first responders, who undergo trauma while they work. While it is gratifying to find people alive, it is disheartening to find so many who have perished.
In addition to victims of Oklahoma, Engel and Barnabas (Barney for short) have traveled to New Jersey and New York in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, as well as to Newtown, Connecticut to comfort people after the Sandy Hook shooting.
“That was different than the other disasters,” Engel said of Sandy Hook. “All the buildings were intact, the power was on but people were just as devastated, if not more.”
Barnabas is originally from Tulsa, OK, and was raised on a horse ranch.
“I don’t know that he realizes that, but he’s happy to be here,” Engel said.