In the wake of the mass shooting that took the lives of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school on Valentine’s Day, a group of 19 Golden retrievers from around the country were deployed to bring comfort, love, and smiles to the faces of those affected by the tragedy.
At the request of at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School administrators, 19 Golden Retrievers and 37 handlers, all a part of Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs, embarked upon Parkland, Florida to bring comfort to those closest to the Valentine’s Day tragedy.
The specially trained pack of Goldens are part of a ministry that began in 2008 with only 4 comfort dogs. Today, the network, a national human-care ministry embracing the unique, calming nature and skills of Golden Retrievers, has grown to around 130 dogs serving in more than 2o states across the county.
The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs have brought love and healing to those affected by the tragedies in Orlando, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs, Boston and, most recently, Las Vegas following the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival last October.
Now, 19 of those special dogs are visiting Parkland families, first responders, students, children, and anyone in need of the comfort and hope that only a dog can provide. During their mission in Florida, the dogs will visit 7 different local schools.
“When somebody pets a dog, they relax. And when they relax, they’re more likely to talk about what they’ve gone through. That’s a key part of the healing process,”Tim Hetzner, President & CEO of the Illinois-based Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs, told PEOPLE. “A person will open up quicker with the presence of the dog than without. We’re there to listen, to hug [and be hugged]. The dogs are trained to either sit or lay on the ground. They’re not aggressive. They don’t bark or bite. A lot of the time, the dogs will just lie on the ground and people will lie on top of them.”
The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs never charge for the very special service they provide, and rely solely on donations to continue their important work. They ask that anyone touched by the work they’re doing in Florida and around the country to donate toward their mission (right here).