CHICAGO (CBS) – Therapy dogs from the Chicago area were preparing to head back to Newtown, Conn., in hopes of easing the first day back to school for Sandy Hook Elementary School students.
It’s the second trip to Newtown for the specially-trained golden retrievers from Addison-based Lutheran Church Charities’ “K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs” program.
“The dogs are like furry counselors,” LCC President Tim Hetzner said in an interview on the CBS 2 Morning News.
The group is taking three dogs to Newtown on this trip, including a puppy named Isaiah, to comfort Sandy Hook students as they return to class at a middle school in a neighboring town. Sandy Hook remains closed, after a gunman killed 20 students and six teachers inside the school earlier this month.
Hetzner said the dogs can help ease the pain of mourning after a crisis.
“We found that dogs have just been therapeutic and bring comfort to people, particularly when they’ve gone through a loss or a tragedy,” Hetzner said.
The dogs visited Newtown for a week earlier this month, and were preparing to return on Monday to be there when Sandy Hook students go back to class after the New Year.
“The people enjoy the dogs, and it helps them as they process everything that they have gone through over the last couple of weeks,” Hetzner said.
LCC has provided aid to victims of a several crisis situations over the last several years, including Hurricane Katrina.
The Comfort Dogs program started in 2008, after the mass shooting on the campus of Northern Illinois University. They’ve helped provide a calming effect for people hit by major disasters – including Hurricane Sandy; the tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., last year; and the Midwest floods of 2008.