Lutheran Church Charities brought 10 'comfort dogs' from Illinois and Indiana to help grief-stricken townspeople in Newtown, Conn. The dogs with their handlers were shown on the 'Today' show.
(Photo: NBC Today)
Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
A team of Golden Retrievers -- "comfort dogs" -- arrived in Newtown, Conn., over the weekend to help grief-stricken residents deal with the school shooting tragedy.
Lutheran Church Charities sent 10 dogs to the town for residents who want to pet them or pray with the dog's handler, Tim Hetzner, president of the organization, told the Chicago Tribune.
The dogs not only show up in times of national tragedy, they also visit hospitals, nursing homes and parks to provide comfort to those in need.
"The dogs have become the bridge," dog-handler Lynn Buhrke told the Tribune. "People just sit down and talk to you."
The dogs have a Facebook page, plus Twitter accounts and e-mail addresses so people can keep in touch with them.
The dogs -- from Illinois and Indiana -- that currently are in Newtown include Barnabas, Chewie, Chloe, Hannah, Luther, Prince, Ruthie and Shami.
The dogs' first stop on Sunday was Christ the King Lutheran Church, which was holding funerals this week for two young children killed in the Friday massacre.
The comfort-dog initiative started in 2008 at Northern Illinois University after a gunman killed five students.
The dogs were originally sent simply to provide a distraction to the student community, but proved so popular they were invited back, the newspaper reports. The program has since grown from a handful of dogs in the Chicago area to 60 dogs in six states.