A group of comfort dogs from Addison, Chicago arrived in Newtown, Connecticut on Saturday evening to comfort those affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that occured on Friday and claimed the lives of 27 people.
The 10 Golden Retrievers are part of the K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs program of Lutheran Church Charities. Newton residents can visit with the dogs and their handlers to talk or simply to pet them.
"Dogs are non-judgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone," Tim Hetzner, president of the organization, told the Chicago Tribune. "It creates the atmosphere for people to share."
The comfort dogs began in 2008 after a gunman killed five students at Northern Illinois University. Since then the program has grown to 60 dogs in six states. The dogs comfort people in hospitals and nursing homes and also at natural disasters like hurricanes and tornados. This week they are giving comfort to anyone that approaches.
Their program aptly describes the dogs' effect: "A dog is a friend who brings a calming influence, allowing people to open up their hearts and receive help for what is affecting them."
Lynn Buhrke is on hand with her dog Chewie. Lynn said, "The dogs have become the bridge. People just sit down and talk to you."
Since arriving in Newton, the dogs are helping children and adults alike. "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,'" Tim said. "There are a lot of people that are hurting," he said. It's "good for the children to have something that is not the shooting."
On Monday the dogs plan to be with Sandy Hook Students for after-school activities.
CNN's Don Lemon reported on the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs in Newton (video below).