Nearly one month after the violent shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary, students and faculty have returned to school.
Nine full grown golden retrievers and one puppy in training greeted students and staff on their first days back to class after the tragic shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead.
The dogs are specially trained to help people who have suffered severe trauma. Tim Hetzner serves as the president of Lutheran Church Charities. He made the first 900-mile trip to Newtown, CT with the dogs. “Some of the students have said, ‘I’m not going to school unless the dogs are there.’ They find the dogs safe, and in Sandy Hook right now, any student in the classroom that starts having a difficult time, they can go down and spend time with a dog or counselor,” he said.
The four-legged friends are members of the Addison, Illinois based comfort dogs program started by Lutheran Church Charities in 2008. They have since provided aid to victims of many crisis situations, including Hurricane Katrina, and the tornados in Joplin, Missouri. “The dogs are so safe because our dogs are great listeners. And they show unconditional love. They’re confidential. They don’t take notes,” said Hetzner.
This is the second weeklong trip to Newtown for some of the dogs. The first, was in the days following the shootings. The canines will stay as long as needed and will always be accessible to the victims through their Facebook pages and e-mail addresses. “It’s an ongoing relationship. They post things for the dogs, and draw pictures for the dogs and it’s rather amazing,” admired Hetzner.
Comfort dogs, Maggie and Hannah, traveled to Newtown with their handlers, Barb Granado and Sharon Flaherty. For Granado, the trip was a life changing experience.“This was the first time for me to see a dog in action during a tragic situation. And it was amazing to me to see how Christ works through these animals and the bridge that he provides for them,” she said.
“In a group of people, the dog always knows who needs them the most. They always go to that person first,” observed Flaherty.
Hetzner plans to expand the program to two more states by the end of this year…currently there are 60 comfort dogs serving in six states.
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