By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
As the entire nation mourns the tragic loss of the 26 victims killed during last Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., many of us have wondered, how in the world can those so close to the tragedy cope with their loss?
Part of the answer may lie with Comfort Dogs; 10 Golden Retriever therapy dogs that have been trained to help comfort people in crisis.
According to this story from The Chicago Tribune, Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) of Addison, Ill. sent the dogs to Newtown, Conn. this past weekend to bring the survivors, and the community as a whole, the comfort that touching a dog or just being in the presence of a dog can bring.
"Dogs are non-judgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone," Tim Hetzner, president of the organization, told The Tribune. "It creates the atmosphere for people to share."
Sadly, it was another shooting in 2008 at Northern Illinois University that got the ball rolling for the Comfort Dog program. A loosely formed band of dog handlers from LCC went to the campus with their dogs in hopes of bringing comfort to the students. The mission was so successful, the students petitioned to get them to come back.
Since that time, these dogs have gone to places hit hard by disaster, including Joplin, Mo., where a devastating tornado ripped the town apart in 2011. Earlier this fall, the dogs visited survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
One of the best parts of this story is that each Comfort Dog has a "business card" with its name and contact information, so the comfort doesn’t have to end when the dogs leave. People who meet the dogs can follow "their" dog on Facebook, Twitter, or even send an e-mail.
Therapy dogs have long been recognized for lowering blood pressure and bringing a sense of calm to people, which is why they are regularly used in hospitals and nursing homes to comfort the sick and dying.
In more recent years, therapy dogs have also been utilized in schools to help children with speech impediments and to help children learn to read. For the same reasons Hetzner states above, they are nonjudgmental and will listen to a child no matter if they stutter or if they stumble over words while reading.
We pet parents have long known that our pets provide us comfort when we are ill, whether they just lie on our lap when we are crying or if they just allow us to pet them and tell them our woes when we are having a bad day.
Animals provide the unconditional love the people of Newtown, Conn. need during this time of deep mourning. We hope they find some comfort in these dogs.
Photo: Lutheran Church Charities
To see more photos of the Comfort Dogs group visiting Newtown, CT, please visit the image hosting site for Lutheran Church Charities at SmugMug.com