Former Portage High School comfort dog Prince passed away earlier this month at age 13. Prince worked at Portage High School with Dean of Students Tim Kunstek from 2009-2013.
Kunstek’s family became involved with the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) comfort dog program through his church. He and a handful of other members of the church were trained to handle the dogs, but Kunstek’s family was also chosen to be Prince’s caregiver.
“They brought a van with three dogs in it to be placed. They said ‘The handlers don’t pick the dogs, the dogs pick the handlers.’ They opened up the van door and Prince got out of the van and stepped right over to me,” he said.
Prince, along with Isaiah and the other comfort dogs trained through the program, visited a number of cities across the country when tragedy struck to bring comfort to those affected.
“It’s even hard to put into words how much he gave to kids. He gave them unconditional love, hope and just a sense of being there for them all the time,” Kunstek said. “Hundreds of kids emailed and called and talked about how sad they were to see him pass. You think ‘Yeah it’s a dog’ but he’s touched so many different people’s lives in so many different ways.”
Along with helping the students he interacted with get through the school day, he also helped Kunstek with his job.
“I always say Prince recharged my batteries too. As a therapist having a dog like that is something new, something challenging,” Kunstek said. “I think he made me a better therapist. I think he brought more people to me to be able to start chipping those walls away. [He had an] unforgettable impact in not only my life, my family’s life, but I hope the school and the community’s and even people across the country that he visited.”
Not only did Prince help Kunstek get through the work day, he helped make life at home more fun as well.
“The hardest thing still is when I see a tennis ball. Isaiah doesn’t chase tennis balls but even with Prince, his last week when he could barely move, I’d show him that dang tennis ball and he’d try to go in circles because he used to go in circles three times and then wait for me to throw it. When I’d show it to him he tried to go in three circles but he kept falling over, but he’d still go get that dang tennis ball,” he said. “That’s going to be the toughest one, I’m never going to play with a tennis ball again.”