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The comfort of Genesis
Turlock church launches canine ministry
Genesis comfort dog
Genesis is now part of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry in Turlock (Photo contributed).
A dog may be man’s best friend, but can a dog be an entire community’s best friend?
Members of Turlock’s Good Shepherd Lutheran Church think so. 
Last Sunday, a four-year journey was completed when Genesis, a 3-year-old female purebred Golden Retriever, was commissioned as full-fledged member of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry.
As a Comfort Dog, Genesis’ mission is to, well, to bring comfort to anyone who’s having a hard time.
And while her services are free to the community, Pam Youngdale, who is the Top Dog within this local ministry — that’s literally her title — had to secure a $20,000 grant to get this program off the ground. And there are additional costs, such as food, grooming and veterinary care.
“When we decided to get into this program, we were told the cost would be about $5,000 to $6,000 a year,” said Youngdale, a retired school teacher and wife of former Good Shepherd pastor Ron Youngdale. “But like the cost of everything else, it’s gone up. It’s more like $8,000 to $10,000.”
And since the program does not fall under Good Shepherd’s budget, fundraising takes on great importance.
Nevertheless, when Youngdale heard about this program, she knew she wanted Good Shepherd to get involved.
“Comfort Dogs are working dogs, but they’re not for one-on-one placement,” said Youngdale. “A seeing-eye dog is placed with somebody that has vision issues. Our dogs are trained to be a calming presence.”
Genesis is one of five Comfort Dogs in Northern California — others are located in Stockton, Elk Grove, Napa and Yuba City. They can, in certain instances, work as a team. But mostly they’re a solo act.
“During the wildfires last year, a couple of our dogs would go visit the basecamps,” said Youngdale. “They weren’t there just to interact with the firefighters, but all the support staff, as well.”
Genesis is available to anyone who needs their spirits lifted, be it a firefighter battling wildfires, a police officer who’s been through a harrowing experience, a student who's stressed about school, a child who’s family is going through a difficult stretch, or somebody facing a medical crisis.
It doesn’t matter to Genesis.
“Our dogs go through about 2,000 hours of training and are placed at around 2 years old,” said Deb Baran, director of communications and media relations for Lutheran Church Charities. “We have about 130 dogs in 26 states.”
Each dog is given a Biblical name and a Bible verse with which it becomes associated. Genesis’ verse is Genesis 1:4, which reads, “God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.”
“She’s already bringing light into the community,” said Youngdale.
Genesis is starting slowly. She’s made a trip to visit the Denair Volunteer Fire Department, and next month she’ll be on hand for a Turlock City Council meeting. So far, her visits have been to get acquainted with the community.
Soon enough, though, she’ll become a minor celebrity.
Genesis lives with Tom and Sue Baldwin.
“She lives with us 75 to 80 percent of the time,” said Tom Baldwin. “We’re the primary caregivers.”
Genesis is not a pet, however. When she’s at home with the Baldwins, they need to make her understand that they are the alpha in the relationship.
“When we’re preparing meals, she’s on a mat,” said Sue Baldwin. “When we’re eating, she’s on her mat or in a kennel.
“She doesn’t get patted just because she shows us her big, doe eyes,”  added Tom Baldwin. “She’s got to do something to earn it. She has to earn her paycheck.”
Playtime is Genesis’ paycheck. And she earns that by helping others. When she’s brought into a care situation, Genesis will be accompanied by one of her caregivers, a handler (caregivers are typically also handlers) and a ministry partner. Together, the team allows Genesis to do what she does best.
“She knows when somebody’s in need,” said Sue Baldwin. “One of the ladies at our church was having a particularly bad day. When the handlers came in to work with (Genesis), she ignored them and hung out with the woman she had barely just met. 

“And that’s what we’re looking for. She connects with people in need.”