Like the legendary St. Bernard who travels through the frozen Alps with a cask of warming brandy attached to its collar, a team of golden retrievers set out from Chicago this weekend with a mission: to help comfort people affected by the Friday shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Lutheran Church Charities, which runs the comfort-dog initiative, sent out a team of 10 golden retrievers with the hope that warm hearts and cold noses could offer some comfort to the residents of Newtown, still reeling from the tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 young students and eight adults, including the shooter. “Dogs are nonjudgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone,” said Tim Hetzner, president of the Addison, Ill., organization, speaking to the Chicago Tribune. “It creates the atmosphere for people to share.” The presence of the dog opens the door for residents who want to pet them while they talk or pray with the dog’s handler.
The first stop for the dogs was Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, where funerals are planned this week for two of the young victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “You could tell which ones … were really struggling with their grief because they were quiet,” Hetzner told the Tribune. “They would pet the dog, and they would just be quiet.”
Sadly, providing solace to victims and survivors of mass shootings is nothing new for the dogs or the organization. The Lutheran Church Charities comfort-dog initiative first started in 2008 at Northern Illinois University, after a mass shooting there in which five students were killed.