Lutheran Church Charities comfort dog handler from Lake Barrington dies from COVID-19

LAKE BARRINGTON, Ill. (WLS) -- A beloved comfort dog handler from Lake Barrington has died from complications of COVID-19.

Rich Martin and his wife led a team of handlers and golden retrievers through the Lutheran Church Charities, who have responded to numerous mass shootings and other tragedies.

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When there was tragedy, Martin led with his heart by providing comfort along with his therapy dogs across the country.

"He was a compassionate example of Jesus, to be very honest," said Tim Hetzner, who started the K-9 comfort dog ministry. "He was. He was a little Jesus, helping people no matter what background they had."

Martin and his wife, who also works for Lutheran Church Charities, contracted COVID-19 last month. He passed away last week after a nearly two-week battle with the virus.

"We did a prayer vigil for him two nights before he died, and the wonderful Polish nurse that was taking care of him had her phone and so we could Zoom," Hetzner said. "Rich couldn't see anything but he could hear, we were convinced, because there was a little hand motion on certain things."

What fueled Martin was that connection from a prayer, holding a hand or a shoulder. He always kept a suitcase packed for his next mission.

"Although we grieve, we know there is hope and we know where rich is. My only thing is up I am upset with Rich is, he deployed and he didn't take me with him," Hetzner said with a chuckle. "But I guess God's not done with me here yet."

Martin was only 68 years old. In addition to his wife, he leaves behind a daughter.

"I wish we could convince people that COVID is real, and it's not just one economic group or it's not just one age group it's, it's real. And just wear a mask, social distance and behave yourself," Hetzner said.

Over the years Martin responded with his team after the Boston Marathon Bombings and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. His last deployment was in September for the wildfires out west.

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