Driving through North Attleboro, Massachusetts, Deborah Horner, district governor for District 33-S, came to a stop when she spotted a young woman training a dog.

“I pulled into her yard and I said, ‘Hey, are you a dog trainer?’” recalls Horner. “She said ‘yes’ and I gave her the spiel about Lions.”

That spiel was not only about Lions, but about Southeastern Mass Paws of Comfort, a specialty club formed in 2020 that brings trained dogs, known as comfort dogs, to schools, nursing homes, hospitals and on visits with people who’ve experienced tragedies.

Today, the young woman is a lead trainer and secretary for the comfort dog specialty club, which Horner believes to be the first of its kind in the nation.

Serving Up Comfort

Vicky with solider higher resHorner’s involvement with comfort dogs goes back many years to when she and her previous dogs, Brandy and Ruby, began visiting people who needed a four-legged friend to hug or pet.

In 2019, she and another Lion and their dogs visited a school to provide solace after a young boy, who along with other family members, was killed in a car crash. As students entered the room to have their turn with the special visitors, Finnegan, a golden retriever, immediately went to work.

“With each new group, he would circle the room and find a specific person to cuddle up to,” says Horner. “I learned later that every child he put his head on was close to the boy who had passed away.”

Horner says dogs are very intuitive and it’s not unusual for them to sense who needs them most.

School visit higher res

A Special Kind of Service

According to Horner, visits like these are often heart-warming, but heart-breaking at the same time. They also opened her eyes to how much this type of community service is needed. Already a Lion, Horner was privy to the power of service-minded individuals banding together. She pursued the idea of starting a comfort dog specialty club.

Horner co-founded the specialty club with Lion Monique Tedino who says the club, which now has 29 members and 17 dogs, has taken off because it attracts new members who share a bond — a love of dogs.

“It’s a way to bring in people who have a common interest and to use that interest to benefit both the community and Lion projects,” Tedino says.

Bringing healing to Sandy Hook Tedino first witnessed the power of canine comfort while traveling with Horner and her dogs to Connecticut for a playground dedication honoring one of the Sandy Hook elementary school students killed in the 2012 mass shooting.

Witnessing a boy laying with his head on a dog’s warm belly and hearing him talk about how he missed his brother and then seeing him get up and join his friends to play was all she needed to understand the impact dogs can have on a person coping with grief.

“From that moment on, I was a believer in the power of the paws,” Tedino says.

Katie and woman in wheelchair

Visiting Hospitals

The club regularly visits Sturdy Health, a hospital in Attleboro, Massachusetts, where Sandy Carrier, a volunteer coordinator, is happy to welcome four-legged friends.

“Both patients and staff are so excited to see the pups. It really brightens their day,” she says.

Carrier says the hospital, which requires comfort dogs to be vaccinated and their human handlers to be immunized, works with the Lions because it is a trusted entity.

“We know they are able to meet our requirements,” Carrier says.


Attracting New Lions

To help spread the word about Paws of Comfort and attract new members, the club distributes baseball cards featuring the pooches, which come in a variety of breeds and sizes, and information about each of them such as “I like to chase a ball” or “I like to make people happy,” Horner says. They’re also creating a calendar featuring photographs of the dogs that they’ll sell to raise money for the club.

Horner would like to see this type of specialty club replicated elsewhere. Already, the Cape Cod Paws of Comfort is being organized and is getting advice from the Southeastern Mass Club about how to be successful. Horner has had contact with numerous other Lions about how to get a club like this started in their areas.

And while the dogs are often the stars of the club, Horner could not be prouder of her fellow human Lions.

“Our members go above and beyond,” she says. “They work so hard to train their dogs and then go out and do so many wonderful things for the community. It’s just an amazing club to be a part of.”

Finnegan (2)

Comfort vs. Service Dogs

Comfort dogs have received the Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) award from the American Kennel Club (AKC) for completing a 10-skill test, which includes accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, walking through a crowd and sitting down on command. Dogs can be trained by their owner or through formal CGC classes.

Service dogs, according to the AKC, are dogs specially trained to perform a task or tasks to assist a person with a disability or impairment. A service dog must be with its person at all times and has special access privileges in public places

Paws of Comfort Club photoWhat’s a Specialty Club?

A specialty club is a Lions club formed around a specific hobby, profession, culture, cause or any other shared passion. There are more than 7,200 specialty clubs around the world ranging in focus from disaster relief and vision support to sports and the arts. Chartered in the same way as traditional Lions clubs, specialty clubs are a great way for members to pursue their passion while serving their community.

Learn more at lionsclubs.org/specialty.