Location: Chicago, Ill.
Shami, a six-and-a-half year-old golden retriever, is a remarkably well travelled dog. Though she lives with Toni Bazon-Forsberg in Chicago, Shami regularly travels around the state and to disaster areas like Boston in the wake of the April 2013 marathon bombing. Shami was the first member pup in the Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog Ministry, a subsidiary of a national Christian non-profit, which has since grown to include over 80 dogs. Bazon-Forsberg, a senior environmental coordinator for Com-Ed, a subsidiary of energy company Exelon (No. 111) is her main handler and caregiver, and Bazon-Forsberg accompanies Shami on most of her jobs. The pair was especially involved in the healing process of residents in Sandy Hook, CT, after the December 2012 elementary school shooting. As soon as Bazon-Forsberg learned of the event, she and her retriever jumped in the car and drove through the night to Connecticut. They attended memorial services and worked at the Sandy Hook community center, where many local residents convened in the aftermath of the shooting. On one day, a young girl approached Shami and started whispering in her ear. The girl’s mother burst into tears. Those were the first words her daughter had uttered since she had witnessed the murder of her classmates and teacher.
For Bazon-Forsberg, being Shami’s handler has been a life-changing experience. She devotes many of her weekends and evenings, as well as vacation time, to the comfort dog ministry. When Sandy Hook Elementary School reopened in January, Bazon-Forsberg returned to spend 16 days volunteering at the school with Shami. “Sometimes you’ll sit down with someone and all of a sudden, they’ll start to open up,” she says. “The most rewarding thing is seeing what these dogs are capable of.”