After experiencing some of the worst this world has to offer last week, survivors of the Las Vegas shooting are getting to experience some of the best this world has to offer: big, cuddly dogs.
Nineteen “comfort” dogs from Lutheran Church Charities and their handlers traveled to Las Vegas to help survivors, families of victims, first responders and others affected by the shooting, which was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, leaving at least 58 dead and more than 500 injured.
“We want to bring a message of compassion and mercy into a terrible situation, a calm presence in times of struggle wherever we might be,” Rev. Joshua Gale, executive director of Lutheran Church Charities, told Petcha.com.
To learn how to provide a calming presence to those impacted by tragedy, LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs receive about 2,000 hours of special training that ranges from basic commands to exposure to various sights, smells and sounds they might come across while on the job.
“For example, they attend military funerals, so they must be comfortable hearing the gunshots,” Gale said. “Since the dogs spend a lot of time in hospitals, there’s things to keep in mind too, like tubes and where to lay on the bed.”
The dogs and their handlers began arriving in Vegas the morning following the shooting, which took place at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on Oct. 1, 2017. One of the dogs was from the area, while the rest traveled from Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona and California.
They visited with shooting survivors recovering at the hospital as well as medical staff, first responders, 911 operators, casino employees, school children and many more. The dogs and their handlers go wherever they are asked and provide whatever support they can, depending on the situation.
“Some people cry, some break down, others lay on the dog from exhaustion or otherwise, but plenty of people want time to talk to someone who is not a doctor, nurse or scared loved one,” Gale told Petcha.
Over the years, LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs have responded to many tragedies all across the country, including the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016; the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013; the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012
“While the dogs are special, the handlers are also dedicated, selfless people who have jumped in with both feet into a tough situation,” Gale said.
“We never charge those we serve, nor do we even imply a donation,” Gale said. “Rather, it is our supporters and followers of the dogs who support us to do this type of work.”
In times like these, it helps to be reminded that there is good in this world, and there is nothing as good or as pure as a big, cuddly dog.