"Dogs are nonjudgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone."—Tim Hetzner, president of the Lutheran Church Charities, ten of whose K-9 Comfort Dogs were dispatched from the Chicago suburbs to Newtown, Conn., this weekend, to offer comfort to those grieving the shooting.
The comfort-dog initiative started in 2008 at Northern Illinois University after a gunman killed five students. A group of dog caretakers associated with Lutheran Church Charities traveled to campus in hopes of providing a distraction to the student community.The comfort dogs, each of whom "has a card with its name, Facebook page, Twitter account and email so those who meet the canine can keep in touch," serve as a bridge between people for those who want to talk but aren't sure how to reach out, and a source of quiet companionship to those who need to sit silently in their grief.
The trip was so successful that weeks later students petitioned university leaders to bring comfort dogs back to campus, Hetzner said.
The initiative has grown from a handful of dogs in the Chicago area to 60 dogs in six states, he said.
Since then, the dogs have traveled across the nation to comfort people in the aftermath of major tragedies like Hurricane Sandy and the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo.
On Monday, the dogs [were] with Sandy Hook students for after-school activities, Hetzner said.
"There are a lot of people that are hurting," he said.
Lutheran Church Charities staff members (from left to right) Tim Kurth, Dona Martin, Lynn Buhrke, and Tim Hetzner. K-9 Comfort dogs (from left to right) Zippy, Ruthie, Chewie, and Luther before leaving for Newtown, Conn. [Photo via.][H/T to Shaker Stephanie.]