NEWTOWN, Conn. — Slobbery kisses and furry hugs were welcomed by those heartbroken in Newtown, Conn., this past week.
Ten specially trained golden retrievers, known as K-9 Comfort Dogs, made an 800-mile trip from the Chicago area last Saturday to comfort those affected by Friday's tragic school shooting.
President of Lutheran Church Charities Tim Hetzner talked about going to Newtown with the dogs to comfort the tight-knit community.
"Everyone knows each other or is associated somehow, so everyone is grieving in some way," Hetzner said. "We have taken the dogs to the high school and activity center and multiple children and parents have been comforted by the dogs."
Hetzner shared a few experiences of children being positively effected by the golden retrievers.
"We had one little elementary school girl whose parents said she has not talked much since last Friday when normally she is a chatterbox. But once she started petting the dog, she started acting like herself again. The mother broke down in tears seeing her daughter talk again," Hetzner said.
These comfort dogs even made it on CNN, with anchor Erin Burnett visiting the dogs, and their handlers, in Connecticut.
Another touching story deals with a boy who has kept his feelings to himself until he felt safe enough around the dogs to share them.
"He was down with the dog, petting and hugging him. He opened up and started to tell the dog what went on in the school and what he saw and felt. His parents said he has not shared that story with them or anyone else. He felt safe enough to tell one of the golden retrievers," Hetzner said.
Golden retrievers are "furry counselors," according to Hetzner.
"They are the best listeners and they love everybody. In crisis situations like in Newtown, people naturally want to be given an explanation to what happened when there really isn't one. The key is to listen, not explain, and goldens are great listeners."
Each dog has their own Facebook page, email address, Twitter account and even business cards with their picture on them. Many people have written to the dogs and continue to follow up on what they are currently doing. Hetzner mentioned how people naturally connect to the dogs and will remember their names more than the handler's names.
The golden retriever's Facebook pages have many more likes ever since going to Newtown. The main Facebook page, K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs, has more than 18,000 likes — a dramatic increase than what it was only a few days before.
Lutheran Church Charities have donated their time and efforts to comfort those in Newtown without asking for anything in return. Their mission has been to be there for those that need comfort.
"Many people have told us 'unlike others who have come to our town to take photos, take videos and take interviews, you have come only to give.' We are able to spread God's love through giving," Hetzner said.
Hetzner is grateful for the volunteers and donations for their organization, but wants people to stay focused on what is most important.
"Remember the people in Newtown. It's not about our dogs — it's about the people in this town and whatever we can do to support them."
If there is anything to remember about the comfort dogs, it is simply this:
"Dogs are wonderful creations by God and God has been working through ours," Hetzner said.
Based in Addison, Ill., Lutheran Church Charities is a nonprofit organization that focuses on “spreading God's love by helping those in need.” To learn more about their organization and the comfort dogs, visit their website at http://www.lutheranchurchcharities.org.
Kylie Lewis is an intern for the Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and does other feature articles. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho, receiving a bachelor's degree in communications.