BLOG: Dogs promote healing in wake of tragedy

Allison M Cooper
York Dispatch

In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, where the pain and grief are beyond understanding, healing must evolve in its time and its many forms, including from comfort dogs. Comfort dogs vary from service dogs. They are not registered and trained as service dogs are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Illinois-based K-9 Comfort Dogs help humans process their grief following the mass shooting in an Orlando gay nightclub.

However, these animals are an extension of the every day good cheer that dogs can spread just by being around. And they can promote healing through their gentle attendance anywhere people are feeling overwhelming emotions, such as grief.


Meet the Comfort Dogs From Around the Country Helping the Orlando Victims

Illinois-based Lutheran Church Charities traveled to Orlando this past week with 12 golden retrievers wearing vests that said, “I’m friendly. Please pet me.”

According to a report by the New York Times, the K-9 Comfort Dogs team has comforted victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. It was founded in 2008.

The Times reported that the president of the charity observed people pet the dogs and then "break out crying." Not surprisingly, once those in pain connect with the gentle, non-judgmental beings, they are often compelled to let down their emotional guards and "express vulnerability," said Tim Hetzner, president of the K-9 Comfort Dogs team.

The dogs and handlers visited churches and hospitals, the Times reported. They also attended memorial services and candlelight vigils.

Dogs comfort victims of the mass shooting in an Orlando gay nightclub.

Comfort dogs are becoming fixtures anywhere humans may feel anxiety and emotional pain. In airports, on college campuses, in senior assisted living homes and hospitals comfort dogs bring relief from the stress that is uniquely human.

While our thinking minds can stoke fear, contact with a  gentle animal can calm those fears by allowing us to go beyond thought into pure connection. We don't negotiate language with animals. We use other senses and channels to communicate.

Anyone who cohabitates with a pet for any length of time has experienced the uncanny way they have of knowing when their human is experiencing physical or emotional pain. They often stay near when they sense this discomfort and something about the way they offer themselves as support can elicit the flow of emotions, which is a really healthy thing. And they don't go around blabbing about it, either.

Grief is so complex. It's tricky to navigate. Often humans struggle with how to best help other humans make their way through it. Once again, we could take a lesson from our canine companions and understand that sometimes it's enough just to be there, unconditionally.