Comfort Dogs Provide Support to Newtown Massacre Survivors
There are no words that can adequately express the horror of the tragedy that took the lives of 20 young children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. What a horrible way to end a year.
A poignant thing took place there this past weekend. Several groups of therapy dogs sent their canine ambassadors along with their handlers to the town to meet with and offer solace to survivors and families. They are calling them “comfort dogs” – what an apt description.
There is something unique about the human-canine bond. It’s different from any other human-animal relationship. Scientists have theorized it was caused from dog’s domestication by humans some 30,000 years ago. Others have tried to study the intricate emotional connections between human beings and “man’s best friend.”
Scientific studies aside, when you observe and/or experience the absolute selfless love and concern expressed by dogs to people, it is a magical moment. It is pure innocence conjured from the innate empathy dogs possess toward other living beings.
When tragedy strikes at places like Sandy Hook Elementary School and the world is turned upside down, what a privilege it is to see people jump in and volunteer time, effort, support – and the love of a good dog.
Three organizations sent comfort dogs to Newtown. Hudson Valley Golden Retrievers Club, K-9’s For Kids Pediatric Therapy Dogs and Lutheran Church Charities sent eight Golden Retrievers and their handlers from Chicago. Some locals simply brought their family pets to help others feel the peaceful relaxation caused by a spontaneous doggie kiss and the act of petting a dog’s head.
“Everyone likes to pet a dog,” said Crystal Wright, a dog handler with K-9’s for Kids. “It changes the mood. It kind of takes them away from what they’re going through for a moment.” As the expression goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. New York Daily News published some photos that say it all.
“We’re [dogs and humans] actually biologically programmed to love each other!” reports PBS. Japanese researchers theorize that the hormone oxytocin played a role in the domestication of dogs. Oxytocin is what binds mothers and infants, reduces anxiety and depression and allows for the building of trust and intimacy. It’s what circulates through the bloodstream of nursing mothers and infants.
PBS Nova made a documentary a couple years ago titled “Dogs Decoded.” In discussing the oxytocin connection, it aims to uncover the ability of dogs to read human emotions. With a length of 53 minutes it relays a huge amount of information about how dogs read our expressions. It also postulates that without dog domestication, human civilization would not have made it past the hunter-gatherer stage. You can watch it through Netflix or look at a trailer of the film.
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