While the nation struggled to digest the tragedy at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, ten golden retrievers were travelling 800 miles to comfort survivors, families, and community members. They are known as the Lutheran Church Charities’ Comfort Dogs, and they have one mission: helping people cope with grief.
And those affected by Sandy Hook certainly aren’t short on grief this week. After the loss of 26 community members, including 20 children, many will need someone to talk to and some way to ease the pain of loss. The dogs are gentle and ideal listeners for victims of tragedy.
“Dogs are non-judgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone. It creates the atmosphere for people to share,” said Tim Hetzner, president of LCC.
The Comfort Dog program was founded in 2008, just after five students were killed at Northern Illinois University. A few members of the Lutheran Church Charities brought their dogs to campus to comfort students, and the comfort they found in them was such that they requested the university bring the dogs back to campus later.
“The dogs have become the bridge,” says one of the dog handlers, Lynn Buhrke. “People just sit down and talk to you.”
What started as just a few charitable pet owners began to grow, and now the program has over 60 dogs in six states. Facebook pages can be found for each dog, as can Twitter feeds and e-mail accounts. They even have their own business cards with contact information. They have comforted victims of many tragedies, including Hurricane Sandy.
“LCC Comfort Dogs and handlers arrived safely in Newtown late Saturday evening,” reads the LCC website. “The Comfort Dogs and handlers will be at Newtown High School this evening for a gathering that President Obama will be attending.”
Monday, December 17th, the dogs were scheduled to participate in after-school activities for students. “There are a lot of people that are hurting,” Hetzner said. “It’s good for the children to have something that is not the shooting.”