These Golden Retriever Comfort Dogs Were Sent to Las Vegas to Spend Time with Shooting Victims and First Responders | 22 Words

After a horrible event like the shooting in Las Vegas, many of us struggle to find the little things that make us feel happy, or at least a little better for awhile. We "look for the helpers" and focus on the acts of love and bravery, even as we look into the faces of the victims and read about the wonderful people whose lives were tragically cut short. This is about the helpers. This is about helpers whose sole purpose is to bring comfort to those who need it. Which is all of us.

 

This is the team from LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministries who have been deployed to Las Vegas.

The non-profit organization based out of Illinois sent in a team of golden retrievers to do what the dogs do best - provide comfort to those who need it. The K-9 Ministry is a branch of Lutheran Church Charities. Since 2008 they have been traveling to sites of school and mass shootings, disaster zones, and anywhere else where people are in need of comfort.

The dogs with their handlers are making the rounds in hospitals, schools, convention centers, and elsewhere in the Las Vegas area.

Why dogs? According to K-9 Comfort Dogs, "A dog is a friend who brings a calming influence, allowing people to open up their hearts and receive help for what is affecting them." The dogs only go where they are invited, and they try to be there within 24 hours.

In some instances, there simply are no words that can make us feel better. What we need is time, space to feel sad, and a hug that lasts as long as we need.

Tim Hetzner, president and CEO of Lutheran Church Charities and founder of the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministries said, "Dogs have an incredible sense of when somebody is hurting. They'll just come and lay themselves into somebody's lap." The Comfort Dog Ministries currently has 19 dogs in Las Vegas. The dogs hail from different states, are all golden retrievers, and all have only one mission - to make people who are hurting, emotionally and physically, feel a little bit better. And it works.

K-9 Lois, a Las Vegas local, makes the rounds visiting victims like Michael Caster.

Research has shown that dogs can provide real, measurable comfort. Petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones, regulate breathing, and lower blood pressure. Research also has shown that petting releases oxytocin, a hormone associated affection that makes us feel good and loved. This is true for both the dog and the human!

It's not just the victims that need comfort.

First responders, nurses, doctors, and anyone else who has been involved in the aftermath of the shooting are in need of the dogs' special brand of care. The stress, long hours, and memories of what they've witnessed take a toll on those on the front lines. And it didn't end there...

The dogs formed a kind of receiving line along the strip where passersby could stop and pet them.

The dogs have been providing comfort even to those were were not directly involved in shooting. This has been a traumatic event for the entire city, nation, and certainly anyone who was anywhere near Las Vegas on the night of the massacre.

Would a video of a dozen golden retrievers romping make you feel a little better today?

The handlers are pros and make sure the dogs get breaks. While working, the dogs are calm and quiet, so they need time to unwind and run around too. These dogs have been trained for service since they were 8 weeks old. Golden Retrievers make excellent comfort dogs because they are naturally so loving and friendly.

These "second responders" are a key part of the healing process.

Hetzner explains, "I think that's a common mistake people make in crisis situations - feeling obligated to give some sort of answer or advice, when really, those who are hurting just need to express themselves." That's where the dogs come in. When people pet the dogs, they relax, and begin to talk and that's the first step to healing.

The dogs spent time at a local elementary school as well.

This is a particular area of expertise for the K-9 outfit. After being deployed at Sandy Hook, Hetzner said, "A lot of times, kids talk directly to the dog. They're kind of like counselors with fur. They have excellent listening skills, and they demonstrate unconditional love. They don't judge you or talk back."

Here's Cubby doing what he does best.

Bonnie Fear, Cubby's handler, said of this moment, “We had an adult come up and there were no words said. She came up to Cubby, put her head down, head to head, and just stayed there for 30 seconds. It was a moment that she needed, and Cubby knew." Are you in love with these dogs yet? How about a bunch more photos of these incredible dogs doing their best to bring some love to Las Vegas?

You can feel how much these dogs are helping people just by looking at the photos.

If you've ever known a golden retriever, then you know that this is all they want. This gig is really perfect for them.

The dogs attended a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting.

So many people want to help in times of tragedy or disaster, but don't necessarily know how. These dogs are doing what we all wish we could - providing comfort and a brief relief from grief and pain.

Four dogs bringing a smile to a mother's face whose child has been shot. These dogs are a gift!

These amazing dogs are doing what maybe no one else can. LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs runs entirely on donations and love, and it's organizations like this and these beautiful dogs that give us that spark of hope that is so badly needed in times of tragedy. These are good dogs.

Because no one can have too many pictures of these dogs, here are a ton more.

If you want more information about LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs, check out their Facebook page. They will have lots more photos of the gorgeous dogs to help all of us feel better!