Lake Barrington man who led comfort dog ministry dies from COVID-19 complications

  • Rich Martin and his wife, Dona visit the bedside of a Boston Marathon bombing victim with their dogs, Ruthie, left, and Luther in 2013. Rich Martin, who died last week at 68, led the Lutheran Church Charities comfort dog program.

    Rich Martin and his wife, Dona visit the bedside of a Boston Marathon bombing victim with their dogs, Ruthie, left, and Luther in 2013. Rich Martin, who died last week at 68, led the Lutheran Church Charities comfort dog program. Courtesy of Lutheran Church Charities

  • Rich Martin, right, and his dog, Ruthie, comfort a Milwaukee resident in February after a mass shooting at the Molson Coors Brewery. Martin, of Lake Barrington, led comfort dog deployments to the scenes of mass shootings and other tragedies across the country.

    Rich Martin, right, and his dog, Ruthie, comfort a Milwaukee resident in February after a mass shooting at the Molson Coors Brewery. Martin, of Lake Barrington, led comfort dog deployments to the scenes of mass shootings and other tragedies across the country. Courtesy of Lutheran Church Charities

  • Rich Martin and comfort dog Luther were featured on "Good Morning America" with anchor Lara Spencer in 2013.

    Rich Martin and comfort dog Luther were featured on "Good Morning America" with anchor Lara Spencer in 2013. Courtesy of Lutheran Church Charities

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 12/8/2020 7:02 PM

Rich Martin always had his bags packed, one for him and one for his dog. When a tragedy occurred, they responded.

Take the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Within 24 hours, the Lake Barrington man and his wife, Dona, were on the scene with their two comfort dogs, Luther and Ruthie, in tow.

 

It was the first of countless man-made and natural disasters that Martin would rush to, leading a team of handlers and Golden retrievers from Lutheran Church Charities to bring loving, unconditional comfort to victims and first responders.

Martin died Dec. 3 due to complications from COVID-19. He was 68.

"Rich had a compassionate heart for people, particularly when they were suffering," said Tim Hetzner, president of Northbrook-based Lutheran Church Charities, "which fit in with our mission and his role in working with affiliates across the country to deploy comfort dogs at times of disaster and crisis."

Martin started out as a volunteer, but after retiring from a corporate career, he was hired as deployment director of the charity's K9-Ministry. What started out locally with Golden retrievers now has grown to include 130 comfort dogs in 27 states.

"Rich led every major K-9 Ministry crisis/disaster deployment," said Debra Baran, the organization's communications director. "He not only coordinated the deployment prior to us leaving, but he led the on-site deployment activities as well."

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Martin, his wife and their dogs responded to numerous mass shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 27 dead, including 20 children. They stayed for a month to provide comfort to those in need.

They also responded to the 2016 Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida; the 2017 mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas; and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018 in Parkland, Florida.

Most recently, Martin responded in February after a mass shooting at the Molson Coors Brewery in Milwaukee, and in September, he and his dog comforted firefighters battling wildfires in Oregon.

In all, Lutheran Church Charities officials count 16 major K-9 Ministry crisis deployments that Martin led, as well as hundreds of site visits and emergency responses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At the start of this year, Martin took on added responsibility within the organization, when Greg Zanis, founder of Crosses for Losses, gifted his charity to Lutheran Church Charities. Zanis, an Aurora resident, traveled the country delivering thousands of white crosses to honor shooting victims, starting with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado until his death earlier this year.

Martin was tapped to lead the ministry, adding even more logistics to his role. Now called Hearts for Mercy and Compassion, the enhanced ministry under Martin's leadership provided hearts and crosses to families and friends who suffered the loss or serious illness of a loved one.

"Rich fully lived Lutheran Church Charity's mission of sharing the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those suffering and in need," Hetzner said.

"He was a man of great faith and compassion, a faithful servant to everyone he came in contact with."

Martin is survived by his wife, Dona, and daughter, Sophie (Martin Dzik).

Visitation took place Monday at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palatine, where comfort dogs were on hand. Funeral services are being held privately.

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