The massacre in Connecticut last week was unthinkable, to say the least. The human suffering still to come is also unthinkable. People close to the victims and their families need whatever help they can get. So bring in the dogs.
Over the weekend, a team of comfort dogs visited people affected by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lutheran Church Charities, which has a division of K-9 Comfort Dogs, dispatched the dogs and their handlers on Saturday, and 10 Golden Retrievers made the 800-mile trip from Chicago to Newtown.
K-9 Comfort Dogs has a long history visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes.
“The dogs have become the bridge,” said Lynn Buhrke, one of the handlers, according to the Seattle Times. “People just sit down and talk to you.”
Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Church Charities, said, “Dogs are nonjudgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone. It creates the atmosphere for people to share.”
On Saturday night, they first stopped at Christ the King church and visited with Pastor Robert Morris.
On Sunday morning, they met with the congregation, then went into town. That evening, they attended vigil at Newtown High School, where President Obama spoke.
“You could tell which ones … were really struggling with their grief because they were quiet,” Hetzner said. “They would pet the dog, and they would just be quiet.”
The dogs are spending the week visiting other schools in the area as well, comforting all who were affected by the massacre.
“I asked [one man] how he is doing,” said Hetzner. “He just kind of teared up and said, ‘This year, I’ve lost five loved ones, and now this happened.’ The whole town is suffering.”
On a radio show on WBEZ, Hetzner said the dogs have met with families of victims and first responders. Asked how people were reacting to the dogs, Hetzner said, “For some of the children — we have been told by their parents that this has been the first time they’ve smiled in days, since the event. It was a chance to bring some relief to the children and the adults.”