With the first funerals underway in Newtown, Conn., a special source of comfort has come to visit: golden retrievers. A team of about 10 comfort dogs traveled 800 miles from the Lutheran Church Charities in Illinois to help console anyone who is grieving, the AP reports. Handlers are encouraging people to pet the dogs while praying or simply saying what’s on their mind. “Dogs are nonjudgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone,” says the charity’s president. “It creates an atmosphere for people to share.”
“You could tell which ones … were really struggling with their grief because they were quiet,” says a dog handler. “They would pet the dog, and they would just be quiet.” The charity began using dogs to comfort the bereaved after the 2008 Northern Illinois University attack that killed five students. The visit proved so successful that students asked weeks later for the comfort dogs to come back to campus.