DARIEN, IL — Following the tragedy in Newtown, CT, earlier this month, a Darien woman traveled 900 miles with eight dogs to try to bring comfort to the distraught community.
Toni Bazon, of Darien, is the handler for Shami, a golden retriever who is a Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog. Shami's home church is St. John Lutheran Church in Darien, and on Dec. 15 they traveled together to Newtown with eight other dogs to comfort the community.
This followed the tragic school shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
St. John Lutheran Church shared the following announcement on Patch:
For the better part of a week, Shami offered the mercy, compassion, and comfort of Christ with her calming presence. It was a challenging assignment as everyone’s heart needed mending after the tragedy. The whole town was suffering.
The dogs’ first stop was at Christ the King Lutheran Church, which would conduct funerals for two of the child victims in the days ahead. Shami and her fellow K-9’s visited with parents and children at the church after their Christmas Pageant. During the week, the dogs attended Prayer Vigil Services there and at other memorial sites throughout the town.
Some of the dogs were also stationed outside the Interfaith Memorial Service at the High School on Sunday night where President Obama eulogized the victims and offered words of solace to their families and the town.
On Monday, the K-9 Comfort Dogs were invited to go to the Community Center. This is where the children and families of Newtown spent a good part of their day. Shami met hundreds of children and parents. Despite their sadness, people warmly welcomed her.
One little girl come over to sit by Shami. Soon the girl was petting Shami. She then hugged Shami and started talking to her and even smiled. Her mom told Shami’s handler that since Friday her daughter had refused to talk to anyone and this was the first time she had spoken since leaving her classroom at Sandy Hook where fellow students had been killed.
Later that day, another little girl made all the handlers turn their heads, while she told the dogs “secrets.” The dogs listened and loved her back.
While the K-9 Comfort Dogs have been in situations with media attention, the degree of coverage here was much greater. They had never been so exposed to so many cameras and reporters. The dogs were featured on CNN, NBC, WGN, and ABC.
Fortunately, the children at the Community Center gave Shami a “Newtown” soccer ball with which to play. It became one of her favorite new toys. When Shami left work at the end of each day, Toni spent time walking her. The two played ball for several hours to de-stress.
On Tuesday, the dogs were invited to go to the High School for the students’ first day back. When they walked in, the students gave them a standing ovation!
They pinned green and white ribbons on them. The dogs spent the whole day in the cafeteria and counseling area. There were many hugs and smiles, and yes, some tears. Some students just lay on the floor and cuddled with the dogs.
One teacher said: “This is the best thing that ever could have happened to these students today.” The dogs were invited back on Wednesday.
The reaction to the K-9 Comfort Dogs was overwhelming wherever they went. When Toni and Shami went to breakfast at the hotel on Wednesday morning, the desk clerk and hotel manager approached them. The manager said to Shami, “Hey, we saw you on TV yesterday.” As he petted her, he added, “Too bad you have no idea all the good you have been doing here.”
Toni and all the handlers sacrificed time at work and with their families to serve the people in Newtown. The dog and handler work as a team. The dog helps create a relaxed atmosphere so that people grow comfortable enough to talk to the handler about their pain and fears. The handler listens to and prays with those in need of emotional support.
The community of Newtown will be going through the healing process for a very long time. The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs will be returning there. They will leave Chicago at 3 a.m. Jan. 1 to arrive in Newtown on Jan. 2 to greet all the Sandy Hook Elementary children on their first day of school in the new facility being prepared for them.
To learn more about the K-9 Comfort Dog ministry or to financially support it, go to www.lutheranchurchcharities.org.
If you would like information about other programs of St. John Lutheran Church & Early Learning Center, visit their website www.sjlcdarien.org or Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sjlcdarien, email them at email@example.com, or call 630-969-7987.
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