Five comfort dogs and seven handlers arrived at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Conn. on Saturday, Dec. 15th to console the tight-knit community devastated by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"The dogs have been a ray of hope in a community that was feeling nothing but despair," said the Rev. Timothy A. Engel, a pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Portage, Ind. "They have allowed us as handlers to spend time encouranting people and praying with people and reminding people that even in this time of darkness there is light."
The handlers and dogs spent three days at Newtown High School working with students, Engel said. "They're all feeling such grief and sadness and brokenness as a result of the shootings on Friday," he said, but the dogs were a great healing presence for many of the teenagers, some of whom simply just pet the dogs but said very little.
The K-9 Comfort Dogs initiative was launched to soothe students at Northern Illinois University, where a gunman killed five people in 2008, Engel said. Since then, the dogs have brought comfort to the disabled, the elderly, military personnel and victims of natural disasters. The program has expanded to six states.