Man’s best friends have brought their wagging tails to Orlando, hoping to bring smiles to those affected by the Pulse nightclub shooting.
The incident has been called the deadliest mass shooting by one gunman in the United States. 49 people died, while 53 suffered from injuries.
The K-9 Comfort Dog team, a program run by the Lutheran Church Charites in Illinois, brought a team of dogs to help bring a moment of peace to those affected by the shooting.
Phoebe, one of the 12 golden retrievers who visited Orlando on June 13th, was also present during the San Marcos flood last Memorial Day.
Janice Marut, director for St. Paul Lutheran Church, said Phoebe and Pax, her brother, are the two Texas dogs a part of their program.
“Phoebe is owned by a St. Paul Lutheran church in Fort Worth, Texas and we’re an affiliate member of Lutheran Church Charity,” Marut said. “When there is a disaster like the flooding in San Marcos, we brought Phoebe out to help those affected by the flooding.”
Lela Gomez, San Marcos resident, said she had the opportunity to interact with therapy dogs after the Memorial Day flood.
“It was great for both my family and me,” Gomez said. “My son teared up and so did I, because the animals—they just make you so happy and help you forget for a little while.”
When the shooting occurred June 12, a mass e-mail was sent to all affiliates to see who could make their way to Orlando, Marut said.
“We were just at the medical center in Orlando. Those people had a really rough week,” Marut said. “We left them with smiles and a more relaxed attitude.”
Marut said the comfort dogs help change the atmosphere of a tense room.
“When we walked in, they just broke out crying,” Marut said. “There’s just a lot of stress here, and they had the opportunity to get down on the floor with the dogs and just love them.”
Comfort dogs’ purpose is to be an emotional support system, Marut said.
They are used are all over the nation during times of tragedy, and brought to schools and universities, according to Marut.
Since the shooting, the K-9 Comfort Dog team has visited hospitals, memorial services and vigils for those who lost their lives during the nightclub shooting.
“It just totally changes their mindset,” Marut said. “It gives them something else to think about. The dogs are so pleasant and soft and furry. Then they go back to their job or schoolwork and they just have a different attitude.”
Kay Hetherly, learning commons assistant at Alkek, said Texas State has partnered with Divine Canines and Pet Partners in the past to bring therapy dogs to the university.
Since 2013, Texas State has brought in therapy dogs to help ease students’ stress during finals week every fall and spring semester, according to Hetherly.
“The happy faces and affection we see between the students and the dogs are really the best feedback,” Hetherly said. “We also love to see social media comments where people tell us this is why they love Texas State or that the dogs are the highlight of their year.”
Marut said the dogs are picked from a litter at 8 weeks old, and are called upon during natural disasters and tragedies like the Orlando shooting.
“The dogs literally just lay down on the floor,” Marut said. “They don’t move and let people just love them. If a person has an emotional reaction, which sometimes we see, the dogs just stay very calm. It’s a beautiful interaction.”