The very same therapy dogs that comforted grieving friends and family following December’s Newtown school shootings arrived in Boston earlier this week. With hundreds injured and many undergoing amputations following the marathon bombings, the K-9 Comfort Dogs help provide affection and emotional release.
The organisation works with 67 specially trained dogs in seven US states. They usually work in churches and schools, but are ready to be deployed in crisis situations. The dogs have comforted victims after Hurricane Sandy, the Joplin tornado tragedy and Hurricane Katrina. In Boston, they are visiting hospitals and attending memorial services.
They are currently stationed at a Lutheran church just a few blocks away from the marathon’s finishing line, where the bombs exploded. The community is invited to stop by and see them. They are also visiting hospitals and memorial services.
Tim Hetzner is president of Lutheran Church Charities. He lives in Chicago, but is currently in Boston with five therapy dogs. He started K-9 Comfort Dogs in August 2008.
“The program was born out of a number of tragedies,” he said. “After Hurricane Katrina, we witnessed the attachment people had to their animals and how they wouldn’t let them go even if it put their own life in danger. I realised the strong impact animals have on healing people in times of tragedy. Petting a dog, which shows unconditional love, calms you down and actually lowers your blood pressure. This is one of the most remarkable ways of touching people following disasters.”
“All of our dogs are golden retrievers; they are very loving and people accept them more easily than other types of dogs,” he continued. “We train them to ensure they can fly in airplanes, stay calm around noise and in disaster areas. They must also be able relate to all age groups and all handlers.”