Comfort dogs provide emotional rescue for Newtown shooting survivors

December 18, 2012 (ADDISON, Ill.)

They are the comfort dogs, a team of gentle, loving golden retrievers trained to let children and adults come to them for soothing.

The dogs, from the Chicago area, are part of a program put together by Addison-based Lutheran Church Charities.

The nine golden retrievers made their way into a recreation center in Newtown, Connecticut, for an emotional rescue to help comfort the children who survived the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as other children in town.

The therapeutic canines rode nearly 900 miles in a van from the Chicago area.

"What is a comfort dog? A comfort dog is one who brings comfort to other people, when they're suffering or hurting, or brings happiness to people, helps people process their grief," said Lutheran Church Charities' Tim Hetzner. "They are specially trained. These are all trained service dogs. We don't use them with disabled, but then we use that training and then we train them additionally to work with all different age groups and people."

The dogs calmed some of the children.

"To some, it helps them process their grief," said Hetzner. "They'll start crying, and they'll hug the dog, and to some children, they'll come up sad, and they'll walk away happy."

The dogs are screened at 5 and a half weeks old, If they have the right temperament, their training begins.

The comfort dog project actually started after the 2008 shootings on the campus of Northern Illinois University. The dogs have gone to Joplin, Missouri, after a tornado, to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, and now number 60 dogs in six states.

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