A team of specially trained service dogs has been dispatched from the Chicago area to Newtown, Conn., to comfort the survivors of last week's mass shooting.
K-9 Comfort Dogs, a charitable organization from Addison, Ill., is run by Lutheran Church Charities and has in the past visited people hard-hit by natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the Joplin, Mo., tornado, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The program was started in 2008 after a gunman killed five students at Northern Illinois University. When the dogs — all golden retrievers — aren't being deployed for crises like the Newtown shooting, they visit people in hospitals and nursing homes. K-9 Comfort Dogs now has 60 dogs in six states, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Service animals have been shown to reduce stress in children with autism, and research has shown that seniors and people who had recently undergone surgery had better treatment responses and faster recovery rates if they had contact with a therapy dog or other service animal.
In Newtown, the dogs visited Christ the King Lutheran Church, site of funerals for two children who were killed in the shooting, which claimed 27 lives plus that of the shooter. The dogs also engaged with local students for after-school activities, Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Church Charities, told the Chicago Tribune.
"There are a lot of people that are hurting," Hetzner said."The whole town is suffering."