Comfort dog helps students grieve after friend dies


CHAMPAIGN — There was a lot of red at Centennial High on Monday. Students and teachers traded in their Charger blue for Luke Miller’s favorite color, since he was Cardinals fan. Miller died over the weekend in St. Louis, but authorities have not released details about how it happened. Students also spent time reflecting and comforting each other. There was a space set up in the library where people could talk. It was pretty busy and so was the room behind it, where students could spend time with comfort dogs.

After losing someone close to you, like a classmate or friend, it can be hard to know where to turn. Social workers have seen that more than once.

“We’re not part of the school,” said Amy Lybarger, who is part of the Unit 4 crisis team. “We don’t have those relationships with the students, a little bit harder for them to want to open up to us.”

Champaign district leaders have found that when a friendly human face isn’t quite what students need, they may turn to a furry friend instead. That’s what teens at Centennial High did through the day.

“They have their time with the animal and many of them are very emotional, but yet, the neat things about the dogs is they give unconditional love,” said Pastor Karl Gibbs from Our Savior Lutheran Church in Milford.

Gibbs works with Lutheran Church Charities and their comfort dogs. He says dogs like Mahlah seem to know who needs love most.

“There may be the one off to the side and the dog will pick him or herself up, go over and put a fuzzy head in their lap and that person can love on the dog,” said Gibbs. “The dog loves in return.”

That cycle of affection can help heal broken hearts.

“We have some kids that will come in and just bury their face in her and stretch out or they’ll have her head in their lap and she’s just very immobile, just very chilled out, but that’s what they need,” said Gibbs.

A few minutes to relax can help students feel better for now, as they figure out how to move forward.

Gibbs says he noticed a lot of students leaving the library with smiles on Monday, not because their grief is gone, but they’ve been able to share and get that love and comfort from the dogs. Those dogs will also be there on Tuesday for students and teachers who need them.

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