Rob Morris, the pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, in Newtown, Conn., asked Addison, Ill.-based Lutheran Church Charites to help by sending K-9 comfort dogs to comfort the grieving. The organization sent a team of golden retrievers to the town where 27 people, mostly children, were killed in the second worst school-shooting in US history.
On Sunday, the dogs and their handlers spent time with those affected by the shootings and were also at the Newtown High School vigil Sunday evening. The handlers will be at other Newtown schools on Monday to talk with children, and the dogs will be there along with them.
Individuals can pet the dogs while they talk or pray with the handler. The Chicago Tribune reported Tim Hetzner, president of the Addison-based Lutheran Church Charities said, "“Dogs are non-judgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone . . . it creates the atmosphere for people to share.” He added that some who were struggling with grief preferred to pet the dogs in silence.
The comfort-dog project started in 2008 when a gunman opened fire at Northeastern Illinois University killing five students. Dog caretakers from Lutheran Church Charities brought the dogs to campus with the hope of distracting students from the tragedy.
Students were appreciative and asked university leadership to allow the dogs to return. The project began with several dogs in the Chicagoland area, and there are now 60 dogs in six different states.
Lutheran Church Charities sends volunteers for major disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, throughout the United States. When the dogs aren't deployed for major crises, they visit nursing homes and hospitals.
Lutheran Church Charities are doing a good work by sending handlers and dogs to Newtown. It is unimaginable what these families are going through. Not only is it the holiday season, but it is also a time of great distress in this small town.
The children may always associate December, the holidays, and Christmas with memories of what happened on Friday, Dec. 14, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. After years of emotional healing, maybe they will also remember the golden retrievers and the kind people who brought them.
Golden retrievers are wonderful, gentle, patient dogs and excellent with children, but it's not only the children who the dogs are helping to open up and share their innermost feelings. The Chicago Tribune reported Hetzner asked one Newtown man how he was doing, and he said, ”This year, I've lost five loved ones and now this happened . . . the whole town is suffering." Adults are benefiting from the K-9s visit too.