Advice from the Experts

'Comfort dogs' help Newtown residents smile again

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Tribune Media Services

Families who lost children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CN, are undoubtedly going through emotional upheaval beyond imagination. Of all possible horrors, nothing is quite so awful as losing a child, particularly so tragically and unexpectedly. Still, having a pet at home might help comfort members of these grieving families, particularly children.

Any family in the Newtown community with a dog may benefit. It doesn't mean those families won't grieve, but we know that dogs (and cats) do help. Giving comfort doesn't require the ability to speak, and pets often seem to know when we need help.

After 9/11, "comfort dogs" were brought in. These animals (unfortunately, not all were trained therapy dogs) were instantly sought out by families missing loved ones, as well as by emergency responders who also needed reassuring. Overall, these dogs did help.

This week, eight comfort dogs from the Chicago area were sent to serve residents of Newtown, under the auspices of Lutheran Church Charities. These trained Golden Retrievers' job is to stand around town waiting to be petted. So far, they've been working a lot-- and smiles are happening.

Kitten Associates, Inc. a home foster cat rescue group in Newtown, CT, is opening its doors to local families (by appointment) who may want to have their children simply pet a kitty, or watch kittens play. Each visiting child will receive a plush kitten. (If you live in the Newtown area and are interested in helping out, email

On the flip side, in the weeks ahead we will likely learn of warning signs that gunman Adam Lanza was disturbed, experts say. He may, for example, have abused animals -- a red flag common among serial killers and mass murderers, who often "practice" on pets. Animal abusers are not only dangerous around pets, but may subsequently seek to harm people -- making them a potential danger to the entire community.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.