‘Comfort Dogs’ to Help Newtown Residents

By Gary Tuchman

NEWTOWN, Connecticut (CNN) — Volunteers hope some caring pets will help ease the pain of residents in Newtown, Connecticut, Friday’s shooting.

That’s why they brought nine golden retrievers to the devastated town for an emotional rescue: to help comfort the children who survived the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary … and other children in town.

The therapeutic canines, who are sponsored and trained by Lutheran Church Charities,  were transported in a van for a 900-mile ride from Illinois.

“A comfort dog is one who brings comfort to other people, when they’re suffering or hurting; or brings happiness to people, helps people process their grief,” said LCC volunteer Tim Hetzner. “They are specially trained. These are all trained service dogs. We don’t use them with disabled, but then we use that training and then we train them additionally to work with all different age groups and people.”

So what do comfort dogs do?

“To some people, we’ve seen this with children, it brings a sense of calmness in a time of confusion for them during this period. To some it helps them process their grief, they’ll start crying and they’ll hug the dog and to some children they’ll come up sad and they’ll walk away happy.”

The training starts at five-and-a-half-weeks.

“We buy puppies at five-and-a-half weeks and turn them upside down in how their temperament is and from that point on….” Hetzner explained. “Right, our initial screening is if they can be relaxed in that position, then we start the next process, which is a trainer that works with them one-on-one for the next eight months to a year.”

The dogs have been all over to help those in need.

“Our dogs were a month ago when Sandy hit, we were out in New York and New Jersey. We have been in Indiana with the floodings. We had dogs out in Joplin, Missouri,” Hetzner said.

The reward, according to Hetzner, is watching a child smile after meeting the dogs.

“Tears. They smile, I cry.”

- Fox 8 News contributed to this report.

*For additional coverage on the tragedy in Connecticut, click here