K-9 Comfort Dog Sasha soothes nerves, spreads calm

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She works six days a week and receives no paycheck.

She works with the young, the old and anyone in between. She visits the sick, the wounded and the heartbroken.

She spends her days bringing joy and comfort to the people she meets.

Her name is Sasha, and she is a trained K-9 Comfort Dog, ready to help wherever she is needed.

The 23-month-old golden retriever arrived on Hilton Head Island in March. She belongs to Island Lutheran Church and is part of the national Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry. Lutheran Church Charities is a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod ministry based in Northbrook, Ill.

Sasha's primary caregivers are Phil and Brenda Burden of Hilton Head, but she has six additional certified handlers who take her to her various jobs around town and sometimes even out of town.

To maintain her good health, Sasha eats a strict diet with no treats. She walks four miles a day. She plays ball every day. She gets her teeth brushed after every meal. She also gets a massage every night. "She really has a great life," Phil said.

Sasha has completed 2,000 hours of training and understands at least 30 different commands. Unlike most dogs, she will not bark when other animals walk by. She will not beg for food. She will not jump up on people.

That makes her perfect for visiting sick people, small children and people recovering from traumatic experiences.

Since Hurricane Matthew pummeled the Lowcountry on Oct. 8, Sasha has visited with victims of the storm as well as volunteers working to rebuild the community.

After the evacuation was lifted and Sasha made her way home, she stopped by the emergency room at Hilton Head Hospital to cheer up staff. She visited with people working at an insurance Catastrophe Claims Center. She also made trips to Hilton Head Presbyterian Church to lift the spirits of people affected by the storm.

Sasha regularly visits hospitals, nursing homes, care centers, preschools, medical and veterans' clinics, Programs for Exceptional People and Memory Matters, among other places.

Sasha makes visits only when she is invited. People or organizations that would like to meet with her can request her services by emailing comfortdoghhi@gmail.com.

Sasha is likely the only dog in town that has her own email address, Facebook page, and Instagram and Twitter accounts.

"We tell children that they can email her and she answers. It's kind of hard with those big paws," Brenda said with a giggle.

Brenda said Sasha really enjoys going to the schools. The children are always excited to read to her, hug her and pet her.

Sasha seems to know when someone is upset and will go out of her way to comfort them. She made a trip to Orlando in June to comfort victims of the Pulse nightclub attack. She visited injured people in the hospital. She visited nightclub employees, nurses, first responders and journalists who were all traumatized by the tragedy.

While in Orlando, Sasha also visited with the city commissioner. Phil said the commissioner was sitting on the floor at the time, and Sasha walked through a group of other comfort dogs to get to the woman, and sat right in her lap.

"As she started hugging Sasha and smiling, she said, 'This is the first time I've smiled in five days,'" Phil said. "And she started weeping; she was so moved."

Phil said that is the reason for the ministry.

"This is a servant ministry," he said. "Our church cares about people. We're doing this because that's what Christians do."

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

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