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Furry Friends Help Students Recover From Tragedy

Schools with students who have experienced tragedy are turning their hopes to four-legged friends in the classroom. A nonprofit helps students find real comfort in the company of golden retrievers. 

The K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry was founded in 2008 through the national Lutheran Church Charities, according to an article on DistrictAdministration.com. The program "sends dogs to K12 schools and universities immediately after a crisis hits to help students express their feelings as they work through the recovery process."

According to the article, "the charity started with four dogs in Illinois. Since then, it has expanded to some 80 dogs in 23 states. The ministry has sent comfort dogs to Boston after the 2013 marathon bombing and to western Texas after a chemical plant explosion. The dogs visit victims and their families, schools, hospitals and other community centers."

“The beauty of dogs is they have a sense of when a person is hurting,” said Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Church Charities and the founder of Comfort Dog Ministries, in the article. “They show unconditional love, they don’t take notes, they are safe to talk to.”

The article said that "school counselors often tell Hetzner that including a dog in therapy can reveal the root of a student’s problem sooner, advancing the process by two or three weeks, he says."

"Dozens of organizations offer therapy dogs, who are trained to work only one or two days per week with just one handler. But comfort dogs—who live with their owners—work every day, with multiple handlers," Hetzner said.

Last June, the article said, "a middle school student from Mahopac Central School District in New York drowned in a nearby lake. In the following days, comfort dogs Addie and Maggie from Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Connecticut visited students."

“I was struck by how students and adults affected by the loss would just gravitate toward them,” said Lynn Allen, assistant superintendent at Putnam/Northern Westchester Boards of Cooperative Educational Service in the article. "The agency, known as BOCES, provides 18 local districts with shared educational services such as a crisis response team."

“It’s often challenging to find an appropriate setting for the grieving to come in and talk about their feelings.” Allen said. “But everyone will immediately come to whatever grief center you have because they see the dogs. The dogs made students more comfortable in the presence of counselors, who could in turn lead more effective therapy sessions."

Read the full story and comment below. Do you have experience with these comfort dogs or use animals in a therapeutic way at your school? Let us know.

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

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