The Comfort of Dogs

Angels of comfort come in many forms—including on four legs.

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The Comfort of Dogs

This has been one of the most tragic weeks I can remember, as funeral after funeral has been held for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday. Newtown is one of those picture-perfect New England hamlets that possesses particular charm this time of year. If you could shrink Newtown it would make an ideal little village for a Christmas train set.

Now the town is crowded with mourners, makeshift memorials and the media. The nation’s attention is fixed on hearse-led processions, 26 of them when it is all over. The pain and grief are palpable. Folks have flocked to Newtown to give their support and pay their respects to the families of the twenty murdered children and six teachers. And pray. At a time like this no one balks at the mention of faith. At a moment of loss and suffering, it is the greatest comfort of all.

Indeed the angels of comfort have come in many forms. Sunday night, as I was waiting for President Obama’s address, I saw CNN anchor Don Lemon and his camera crew descend on a group of children and... golden retrievers. For a second I thought the network had switched to another story, some upbeat human interest piece about kids and dogs and Christmas. Then I saw the crawl: Comfort Dogs arrive in Newtown.

Though I had never heard of the organization (Comfort Dogs is a Lutheran church-based outreach program headquartered in Chicago), the concept instantly made sense. My own golden retriever is an astonishingly sensitive creature, more sensitive than most people I know. I never realized a dog could be compassionate until I got Millie. If she sees someone crying or upset on the street, especially a child, she will go and nuzzle them. If Julee is having a bad day or not feeling well, Millie won’t leave her side.

Millie was sitting with me on the couch when Don Lemon’s piece came on, in fact, her chin on my knee. I think she had sensed how disturbing it was to watch all that grim coverage and wanted to keep close to me.

There must have been a dozen goldens moving through the crowd. Adults and children alike hugged them. The dogs seemed content just to offer themselves for solace, as if that was the purpose of their existence on this earth. It was an amazing scene. A child wiped away a tear. Don Lemon wiped away a tear. I wiped away a tear.

There are some inspiring pictures and more details about therapy dogs in this article in the New York Daily News. As I said, we are sent comfort in many ways—sometimes on four legs.

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