Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook Comfort Dogs

I know first-hand about comfort dogs, or therapy dogs as they are more commonly known. As the author of Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog,a book about my Scottish terrier therapy dog, I’ve seen the comfort and joy they bring to hospital patients, nursing home and assisted living residents, and school children struggling with reading problems. McDuff provided his special brand of therapy to me during the most stressful times of my life and to many others as well. Traumatized children at Newtown smiled at the sight of the therapy dogs and ran to them to give hugs and pats. Grief-stricken parents’ countenance changed and softened seeing the children able to forget the nightmare at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, if only for a short while. The effect of therapy dogs is nothing short of a miraculous. After 911 and Hurricane Katrina, therapy dogs spread comfort and relief from stress and tension to rescuers and families under unimaginable pressure. You don’t have to be a certified volunteer with a registered therapy dog to offer comfort. Retired special educational teacher Michael Cragin knows that. He and his English bulldog, Truman, offered comfort at Newtown the only way they knew how. Michael and a sign that said, “My Bulldog Gives Hugs,” sat at the back of his SUV. People gathered around to pet Truman and ask his name. Teenage girls began to stop crying and started smiling while they petted him. He provided a brief respite from the heartbreak and sorrow. There’s an outcry for stricter gun control laws after this latest incident of mass killing. The controls in effect now didn’t work on Adam Lanza. He wasn’t patient enough to endure the waiting period when he attempted to purchase a gun. It’s moot anyway because Lanza already had access to plenty of guns in his own home. Guns are found not only in his home. There are hundreds of millions of firearms in the homes of Americans across the country. Even the ATV and Department of Justice hands them out. Anyone familiar with “Fast & Furious?” Instead of treating the symptom, why not treat one of the problems? That is the lack of insurance coverage and public aid for the mentally ill in America. You only have to look at the photos of the perpetrators of recent mass murders to see that they are not of sound mind. Unfortunately, basic health care is not affordable for many in this country. That includes treatment for the mentally ill. Good can come out of evil. Perhaps something will be done about the accessibility of weapons, especially semi-automatic guns, and providing treatment for mentally ill people to prevent tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If not, we can only expect more heartache and horror.

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