In times of sorrow and stress Chicago-based Lutheran Church Charities sends in its veteran comfort team.
They arrived in Newtown over the weekend with only their furry coats, smiles and kisses.
Usually their mission is visiting the sick in nursing homes or hospitals, but they also respond to natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy.
Today though, eight Golden Retrievers who are part of the Lutheran charities K-9 Parish Comfort Dog Team are bringing solace to the students and families of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Dogs are nonjudgmental," Tim Hetzner, president of the group, told the Boston Herald. "They are loving. They are accepting of anyone,” Hetzner said. “It creates the atmosphere for people to share.”
“The dogs have become the bridge,” said Lynn Buhrke, 66, who is a dog handler for a female golden retriever named Chewie. “People just sit down and talk to you.”
The dogs visited Christ the King Lutheran Church, where funerals are being held this week for two children killed in the shootings, Hetzner said.
“You could tell which ones ...were really struggling with their grief because they were quiet,” Hetzner told the newspaper. “They would pet the dog, and they would just be quiet.”
The dogs have helped even those in Newtown without a direct connection to the tragedy.
“I asked (one man) how he is doing. He just kind of teared up and said: “This year, I’ve lost five loved ones and now this happened,’ “ Hetzner said. “The whole town is suffering.”
The comfort-dog concept was born out of tragedy, coming together in 2008 at Northern Illinois University after a gunman killed five students.
The program has now grown to 60 dogs in six states. All the dogs have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to allow the people they've touched the chance to stay in touch with them.