Nine specially-trained golden retriever dogs arrived in Newtown, Conn., on Monday to comfort and ease the emotional pain felt by the community's children, particularly the survivors of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The comfort dogs, which were accompanied from Illinois by 14 handlers, are trained and sponsored by Lutheran Church Charities.
"A comfort dog is one who brings comfort to other people when they're suffering or hurting," Tim Hetzner of Lutheran Church Charities told CNN. "To some people, we've seen this with children; it brings a sense of calmness in a time of confusion for them during this period. To some it helps them process their grief, they'll start crying and they'll hug the dog and to some children they'll come up sad and they'll walk away happy."
The dogs undergo an extensive 8- to 12-month training period, which begins at 5.5 weeks of age, before they can officially be called "comfort dogs," according to Hetzner.
The same nine dogs also traveled to New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy, as well as other recent natural disasters around the country.
Most comfort dogs, also known as therapy dogs, are used to provide affection to hospital patients and the elderly at nursing and retirement homes. There is no specific breed best suited to be a therapy dog, though all dogs must enjoy human contact.
Multiple studies have found that dogs, specially-trained or not, reduce stress levels among children and adults.
In a recent University of Montreal study, researchers concluded that specifically trained service dogs help to enhance the socialization skills and reduce the anxiety of children with autism.
Additionally, investigators from Virginia Commonwealth University released a study in May that found the majority of dog owners who brought their pets to work with them showed a reduced level of stress and increased employee satisfaction, as compared with employees who did not bring their dog or do not own a dog.
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