Therapy dogs from San Antonio were among the responders who travelled to Texas on Wednesday 25 May 2022, a day after a teenage gunman, identified as Salvador Ramos, opened fire at the Robb Elementary School in the city of Uvalde—killing at least 19 children and two teachers.
The trained dogs, all purebred golden retrievers, are part of the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, a programme launched in August 2008 by Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) to provide comfort and support to people impacted by disasters such as mass shootings. Aged three to nine, the group announced that eight of its canines—named Cubby, Devorah, Miriam, Elijah, Abner, Gabriel, Joy and Triton—were sent to aid the grief-stricken community.
The dogs will be there “to be with the families, survivors, and all of the first responders who serve them,” the post on Facebook read. While Cubby and Devorah travelled from Fort Collins, Miriam was sent from Kingfisher, Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Abner, Elijah, Gabriel, Joy, and Triton hail from Austin, Houston, Plano, and Wichita Falls respectively.
“We are going to attend a mass vigil at the fairgrounds in Uvalde at 7 pm tonight,” K-9 crisis response coordinator Bonnie Fear told Good Morning America (GMA) on 25 May. “We are also aware and have been directed to the civic centre in Uvalde where school staff, teachers, families are gathering, and from there, we hope to connect with first responders, the school staff, families, any churches that request the dogs.”
Fear also highlighted how some of the canines have responded to past school shootings across the US. “Cubby has been to all the mass shootings and crises with me since 2016,” the coordinator said, adding how the cases include the Oxford High School shooting last November in Michigan. “We just see a lot of shock, crying, [people who are] distraught, especially coming in the day after a mass shooting,” Fear continued. “People are not ready to process or listen or answer questions. So we just show up with the dogs.”
“We listen if they talk,” she explained. “We’re silent. We let the dogs connect with people and they can express their feelings at that time and we’re not counsellors, so we are just present, standing with them in their sorrow.”
In the past, LCC’s 130 K-9 comfort dogs have responded to other tragedies including the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Tim Hetzner, the president and CEO of LCC further recalled a comfort dog visit that made a particularly lasting impression on him.
“I remember one situation in Sandy Hook, four days after the shooting,” Hetzner told GMA. “We were at a community centre and this couple was there with their young boy… I had a dog named Howe at that time.”
“Howe looked up at the boy, got up, walked over to the boy, rolled into his legs and the boy came down on top of him. They just laid there. After about ten minutes, the boy lifted up Howe’s ear and told him everything that happened in that classroom. Parents started crying because it was the first time the boy had talked in four days. First time and it was a dog.”
Meanwhile, Insider noted how numerous studies have proved that dogs have a special effect on human emotions, moods and stress levels. “Petting dogs, for example, can help lower people’s heart rates, as well as reduce stress and anxiety,” the outlet added.
In 2019, the therapy dogs who helped students recover from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 students and faculty dead on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida were honoured in the school’s yearbook. In Uvalde, the canines are expected to be deployed till Monday 30 May 2022 and will be given ample breaks to recuperate in between working shifts.