After the fatal shooting of 19 students and two teachers at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, members of the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K-9 Ministries sent eight Golden Retrievers to the bereaved town to comfort the community.
Less than 24 hours after the incident, the eight dogs, aged between three to nine, were transported from several towns in Texas and two from Oklahoma and Colorado to hold a mass vigil at the school.
“We just see a lot of shocks, crying, [people who are] distraught, especially coming in the day after a mass shooting,” Bonnie Fear said, who is LCC’s K-9 crisis response coordinator. “People are not ready to process or listen or answer questions. So, we just show up with the dogs.”
With the help of volunteers and donors, LCC also helped set up 21 handmade memorial crosses to represent the lives lost in the gruesome murders.
The group also plans to have the dogs visit the town’s civic center to alleviate the pain and anxiety of the students, teachers, emergency workers, police, and the families of the victims and survivors.
“We listen if they talk. We’re silent. We let the dogs connect with people, and they can express their feelings at that time, and we’re not counselors, so we are just present, standing with them in their sorrow,” Fear said.
Helping Victims Of Mass Shootings
The ministry also provided comfort dogs for past mass shootings, including the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut and the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School incident in Florida.
Launched in 2008, the organization trains mostly Golden Retrievers to interact with people who are undergoing a difficult crisis. From only four dogs at the start of the program, they now have 130 dogs from 27 states that are ready to serve any community.
Tim Hetzner, LCC president and CEO, remembered one young boy in Sandy Hook who interacted with one of their dogs named Howe at a community center four days after the gruesome episode in the school.
“Howe looked up at the boy, got up, walked over to the boy, rolled into his legs, and the boy came down on top of him. They just lay there. After about 10 minutes, the boy lifted Howe’s ears and told him everything that happened in the classroom,” Hetzner recalled.
Hetzner then recounted how their parents started to cry because it was the first time the boy had talked about the incident.
Benefits Of Having A Comfort Dog
According to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, the company of a comfort dog during a crisis provides a non-judgmental presence to grieving and anxious individuals, making it easier for them to open up and engage in conversation.
The presence of comfort dogs also contributes to the well-being of the victims because it helps release ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the body like endorphins and oxytocin and minimizes the effects of the stress hormone cortisol.
Most of the organizations involved with therapy or comfort dogs are volunteer-based and rely on donations to cover the training and travel expenses of the dogs.