(NEWTOWN, Conn.) — Some much-needed smiles were brought to the children of Newtown, Conn., by way of seven dogs especially trained to comfort survivors in the wake of a disaster.
Seeing the dogs led to some of the town’s children smiling for the first time since Friday’s murderous rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said Tim Hetzner of the Lutheran Church Charities.
The dogs, mostly golden retrievers, “bring some relief” to children, and put, “a smile on their face, kind of like a teddy bear, but a live one,” Hetzner told ABC News.
Hetzner, who has taken dogs to New York and New Jersey after superstorm Sandy hit in October and to Joplin, Mo., following a devastating tornado, said the animals are “like a counselor” meting out “trusting unconditional love.”
Hetzner says his organization begins training dogs as puppies when they are about five and half weeks old. It takes a year to train the dogs, making them calm enough to work with the public in post-disaster situations.
Some of the dogs were stationed outside an interfaith memorial service on Sunday night, at which President Obama spoke, eulogizing the 20 children and seven adults killed in a massacre at the hands of 20-year-old Adam Lanza last Friday.
According to the Lutheran Church Charities website the seven dogs in Newtown are: Abbie, Chewie, Luther, Ruthie, Barnabas, Hannah, and Portage. Each of the dogs has its own Facebook page.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Heather Simonsen, KSL.com
Kevin Conlon, Euan McKirdy and Johanzynn Gatewood, CNN