Comfort dogs return after helping for Newtown shooting survivors

December 26, 2012 (ADDISON, Ill.)

Now, the dogs and their handlers are preparing to make a second trip to Newtown.

"Our dogs are furry counselors," said Lutheran Church Charities President Tim Hetzner. "They have excellent listening skills, they're confidential, they don't keep records, and they're safe. And, because of that, when people start petting the dogs, they start talking to the dogs."

These particular dogs are back from a very long trip. They rode nearly 900 miles in a van, from Addison, Illinois, to Newtown, Connecticut, to help complete strangers.

"Everyone in this whole town is mourning," Hetzner said. "It's a unique town of wonderful people and they mourn together because they know each other."

"Ruthie" was one of those dogs. Handler Dona Martin says, it's not the first time they've had to help those who have suffered greatly, but each time it reminds her how important the task is.

"Every time you respond to a tragedy there are certain things that stick out in your mind, and it's never an easy task," Martin said. "But just to know that we are bringing some comfort to those that are grieving or are in a disaster area, that really helps."

The dogs are part of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry. Each dog is specially trained to handle humans who have suffered and are emotionally hurt.

When their healing vests are on, the golden retrievers don't bark, run or jump. They are just there to heal.

The dogs made such a difference to those in Newtown that they've been invited back again.

"We'll be leaving early New Year's Day to be out there when the schools open on Tuesday," said Hetzner.

LCC Comfort Dogs does not charge for disaster relief, but they do take donations.

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