He may not have a collegiate degree or a counselor’s office, but what he does have- four furry feet, a wagging tail and unconditional love- is enough to make him the best counselor in the world to those in need.
Isaiah the Comfort Dog is just one of the canine helpers that make up Lutheran Church Charities team of pups whose purpose is to be trained as therapy dogs who visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, churches, events and disaster zones. Isaiah and his caretaker, Tim Kunstek, are part of Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Hobart. Kunstek has had the golden retriever for three years, along with his other comfort dog, Prince. They have been a part of the church program for almost eight years and are now retired.
Kunstek said sometimes dogs, ironically, can do a better job than people in being an example of compassion and showing the Gospel’s message.
“I’ve learned a lot from Isaiah,” Kunstek said. “I get the benefit of the attention and love. What they give people is comfort, smiles, tears, joy- it’s truly a gift from God.”
Trinity Lutheran Church and School, which began as Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Portage, began getting comfort dogs from Lutheran Church Charities about eight years ago. They introduced their first canine, Fuerst, to their ministry in 2009 and later added Prince and Isaiah. As part of their mission, Lutheran Church Charities trains comfort dogs and then disperses them to organizations like Kunstek’s church, where they live with a caretaker.
“It’s a great way to spread the Lord’s word and just a great tool in the community, to be able to comfort those who need it most” Kunstek said.
Kunstek works as the dean of students at Portage High School, in which Isaiah is a welcomed coworker. Kunstek, a mental health counselor and therapist, feels that after years in his field, he finally has the perfect sidekicks.
“After 24 years of counseling, Prince and Isaiah have been the best therapeutic tool I’ve encountered,” Kunstek said. “Dogs are unconditional love, they really help break down people’s walls. It’s been a blessing working with them. It’s definitely an ego check. I may spend weeks working with a client and not get far, but they spend five minutes with Isaiah and those walls come down instantly.”
Sometimes Isaiah spends his time lighting up kids days at school and getting loved on by residents at retirement homes, as well as visiting youth organizations. He also loves his time at local libraries where he enjoys story time during “Reading with Isaiah” events.
In darker times, he gives a shoulder to cry on in situations of suffering and pain. Especially lately, Isaiah has been a very busy dog.
During some recent local and national tragedies, such as the hurricanes and shootings, Isaiah as travelled across the country to provide his unique brand of comfort to those in need.
However, even in the face of tragedy, Isaiah remains his happy-go-lucky self.
“I always call him a big baby,” he said. “He loves the attention. When he sees my briefcase in the morning, he jumps up and runs up to me, ready to get to work.”
Playing Frisbee, swimming, cuddling with stuffed animals and playing with Prince are some of Isaiah’s favorite things to do at his Portage home, but people are his number one joy, Kunstek said. Truly, Isaiah is a loved member of the pack, where he lives with Prince, Kunstek and his wife, Marcella, and their two sons, Noah and Nathan.
“I spend more time with Isaiah than I do with my wife and children,” Kunstek said. “Prince and Isaiah are a part of the family. It’s that whole mission of spreading comfort and compassion, it’s God’s wish. And as we become closer as a family, we get closer to God.”