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Comfort Dogs Deployed In Florida To Help Bereaved Students After Shooting

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In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, America has switched its default setting to mourn once more.

17 people lost their lives when a 19-year-old former student, Nikolas Cruz, unloaded his AR-15 rifle in the eighth deadliest mass shooting in contemporary US history.

Yet, at these times of inexplicable darkness, there’s a charity on a mission to bring any shred of joy possible to the bereaved.

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How? With the help of Man’s Best Friend, of course.

Dogs like Ruthie, Sasha, Isiah, Tobias and Chloe – all Golden Retrievers fully trained in the art of empathy – were deployed to the scene by the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs charity.

Comfort Dog Sasha’s human announced on Thursday, February 15, her pack ‘will start arriving today to offer comfort and compassion to all those affected by the high school shooting tragedy in the Parkland community yesterday afternoon’.

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LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs train and care for dogs who interact with people going through hard times, travelling the country to visit the bereaved, sick and downtrodden at churches, schools, nursing homes, and hospitals.

They also serve victims and first responders in disaster situations like the one which unfolded in Parkland, Florida, CEO of Lutheran Church Charities, Tim Hetzner tells UNILAD.

He explained how 18 of their comfort dogs have travelled to Florida upon the request of the grieving community.

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The comfort dogs have been meeting students, teachers and families alike, in an effort to appease some of the heartache the victims are feeling at this time.

They also work closely with the brave first responders, Hertzner told UNILAD.

Their proud human also added it’s wonderful to see the Very Good Boys and Girls ‘actually become comfort rugs with a heartbeat for people to lay down on’.

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One dog, whose name is Jacob, has proved particularly popular.

His harness – like the ones worn by all of the Lutheran Church Charities’ comfort dogs – reads, ‘Please Pet Me’.

Jacob has spent the day meeting people affected by this atrocity, like Matt, pictured below, a teacher at Douglas High.

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Tragically, it’s not his first visit to Florida to help the survivors of a mass shooting.

Jacob was brought to Florida in June 2016, after gunman, Omar Mateen, targeted the LGBT community by firing into crowds at Pulse nightclub, killing 49 people and injuring 58 others.

The comfort dog also travelled to Las Vegas to comfort the families of the 58 people who died at the hands of Stephen Paddock, who unleashed his arsenal of 17 firearms upon the Route 91 music festival.

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He was also on hand to help people injured and hospitalised after the Boston Marathon was bombed in 2013.

Jacob’s efforts have been praised Internet-wide.

You can kind of see why:

The massacre at Douglas High is the eighteenth shooting to take place within the confines of a school in 2018.

It’s the eighth school shooting to have resulted in death or injury in those seven weeks.

Wednesday’s violence marks the second-greatest loss of life from a shooting at a US public school, after the 2012 massacre of 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

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It’s also the deadliest mass shooting – defined by The Gun Violence Archive as an incident in which ‘at least four people injured or killed in one location, not including the suspect’ – ever at an American high school.

It surpasses the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

The issue was documented in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine:

The subsequent outcry of grief in the aftermath of any tragic event like this is compounded by society’s firmly held belief how school should be a place of safety.

It’s a feeling echoed by child psychotherapist, Dr Valerie Sinason, who told UNILAD how trauma on such a large, community-wide scale can leave young people suffering with PTSD for years to come.

Dr Sinason, explains ‘feeling heard’ by counsellors, supportive friends and family members can alleviate victims’ symptoms of PTSD, but added this is a type of incomparable childhood trauma.

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She added:

Nevertheless, a mass shooting is a different order of trauma. From Columbine onwards this is a particular American tragedy with post traumatic stress disorder being the largest result.

While some with huge support networks and lucky personalities escape relatively unscathed, PTSD symptoms can last for years. However the community trauma adds to the pain of the child victims.

Also those closest to young people killed have the highest symptoms.

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The positive effect therapy animals – and particularly dogs – can have on the bereaved and those suffering with mental health issues such as PTSD is well documented.

Hertzner explained all the 130 ACK Golden Retrievers under LCC’s care are trained for 18 months ‘to be calm’.

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He recalls:

When someone pets one of our LCC K9 Comfort Dogs it lowers their blood pressure and makes them relax. When they relax, they can talk about what they have gone through which is an important part of the healing process.

Our LCC K9 Comfort Dogs are confidential, show unconditional love, are excellent listeners, and never judge those they serve.

Hertzner reassured UNILAD LCC K9 Comfort Dogs only go ‘where we are invited’ and ‘we never charge those we serve’.

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At times like this, it’s important to take solace in the unity and support garnered from these small acts of kindness.

If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.

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