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Heartland Bank customers greeted by furry trainee

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 5:31 a.m. CDT
(Chris Burrows –
Jewel, a 12-week-old golden retriever and comfort dog in training, relaxes in trainer Charmaine Cornwell's office at Heartland Bank in Genoa. Cornwell is training the dog for Lutheran Church Charities through her church, Immanuel Lutheran, in Belvidere.

GENOA – Charmaine Cornwell was nervous about the conversation she knew she had to have with her employer.

A lifelong dog lover, Cornwell had become a certified comfort dog handler for Lutheran Church Charities in May and in July accompanied a pair of dogs to Prescott, Ariz., to aid those grieving over the loss of firefighters killed in the forest fire near there. It was on that trip that she made the commitment to become a comfort dog trainer.

"That was my first crisis situation that I had ever deployed to, and to see a grown man weep while hugging a dog, you knew that you had to continue the ministry and make it grow, because you could see how much good that they do," Cornwell said. "To be a part of that and knowing how many lives this dog will touch ... you can't put a value on it."

Not long after that trip Cornwell was paired with Jewel, a golden retriever puppy that has since been accompanying Cornwell to Heartland Bank in Genoa, where Cornwell is an assistant vice president, twice a week. Clients, coworkers and Jewel are so far enjoying the bank's new, furry associate.

"So far it's been a good outpouring in the community," co-worker Stephanie Krueger said. "Charmaine said she's booked a lot of things just from jewel being here a couple times, so I think she's making a positive impact on our customers, and I think they do enjoy seeing her here."

Comfort dogs travel to disaster areas, as well as wakes and funerals and offer an outlet for grieving and a nonjudgemental ear.

The dogs are selected by LCC as puppies and placed with trainers like Cornwell where they spend between nine months and a year learning to stay calm and not bark, no matter the situation.

"At five weeks they'll go to the litter, and they'll place the dog on its back, and kind of see its reaction. So if you find one that's real calm they'll pass the test, and they'll continue to watch that dog," Cornwell said. "... We expose them to different sounds, different environments, because we need them to get used to all those things."

Jewel travels to work with Cornwell on Mondays and Tuesdays and hangs out either under Cornwell's desk or in her dog bed, which is complete with toys.

Cornwell suspects the puppy might be helping with business.

"The client perception has been wonderful," she said. "One of the ladies said, 'Oh my goodness everybody needs to be greeted by a dog when they come to the bank.' "

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