After the murder of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, many people are grieving. But at a time when finding the right words to say is difficult, and the despair over the loss of innocent lives is so great, there is one group who offers their love and companionship to comfort the victims of this horrific event without using any words at all. They are the golden retrievers of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs program.
On Wednesday, February 14, the program announced it would be sending dogs to Parkland after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “They are trained to work with all age groups and all types of disabilities and in all types of situations,” Lutheran Church Charities president and CEO Tim Hetzner said in a release. The dogs begin training at just eight weeks old and continue for 16 to 18 more months.
There are more than 130 dogs in the program in 23 states, and when invited, the dogs are sent to places around the country to help people who need it most. CNN reports that the dogs were deployed to to the aftermath of several hurricanes, as well as the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada; Orlando, Florida; and Newtown, Connecticut.
“When someone pets one of our [comfort dogs], it lowers their blood pressure and makes them relax,” Hetzner said. “When they relax, they can talk about what they have gone through, which is an important part of the healing process. Our [dogs] are confidential, show unconditional love, are excellent listeners, and never judge those they serve.”
In Parkland, the program has sent 18 dogs and 33 handlers from 10 different states. Sasha is one of the dogs who has photos posted on her Facebook page of her and other furry friends during their time in Florida, and it looks like they dogs are doing their job well. The dogs are shown attending a prayer vigil, being pet by many different people, and posing with police officers. “All of our [dogs] are trained to be calm: no jumping, barking, or aggressive behavior,” Hetzner said. “Most times, [they’re] lying down. They actually become comfort rugs with a heartbeat for people to lay down on.”
The dogs are sent to many different places, including, schools, hospitals, police and fire departments, and funerals. “In a school, we work as a tool for the counselors in helping students talk about the tragic event they have gone through,” Hetzner said. Some of the handlers are retired police officers as “many police officers will only open up to another police officer.” The dogs go anywhere they’re invited.
The program does not charge for its services. “We are a faith based ministry, so we rely on outside support from people to cover our transportation, hotel, and meal costs,” Hetzner said. If you’d like to donate to the dogs, you can do so here. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the shooting.