Comfort dogs offer solace after Oregon shooting

The Lutheran Church's K-9 Comfort team is spending the week in Roseburg to offer support to Umpqua Community College students and faculty. 

Eric Johnson/Reuters
A memorial is assembled in the central areas of Umpqua Community College campus commemorating the people who lost their lives in Roseburg, Ore., Monday. Students still shaken from a shooting rampage days earlier that claimed 10 lives were welcomed back on Monday by grief counsellors and comfort dogs to their community college in southern Oregon, but classes remained cancelled through the week.

President Obama may be en route to Roseburg, Ore., this week, after being invited by Mayor Larry Rich to pay his respects to the victims of a deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College last Thursday. But another special visitor is also helping students and staff traumatized by the attack as they prepare to resume class next week: the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs team.

Golden Retrievers Luther, Bekah, Aaron, Eddie, Cubby, and Katie arrived in Roseburg on Sunday, along with their human companions, where they began by visiting Pastor Samuel Sarkassian of Green Community Church, whose home is just across the street from the site of the shootings.

The Comfort Dogs team is a Lutheran ministry that has traveled to disasters like hurricane Katrina and another shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The pups’ handlers say that the dogs allow “people to open up their hearts and receive help for what is affecting them,” according to the group's Facebook page.

Although classes at Umpqua have been cancelled this week, many students have returned to campus to track down belongings left behind as they fled.

For many, it wasn’t easy.

"The anxiety of walking back on campus is very real," student Jared Norman told Reuters via text message. But Mr. Norman hoped the visit would mark the start of a “road to recovery.”

Grief counselors were also on hand to help the community process last Thursday’s attack, which left eight students and one professor dead, while throwing the rest of the country into yet another debate about gun safety. The gunman, a 26-year-old student who some authorities have pledged not to name, to resist granting his apparent wish for notoriety, died of a self-inflicted gunshot. 

“UCC Strong / We will prevail together” read one banner overlooking the campus amphitheater, now converted into a shrine. The words appear on Umpqua’s website, as well, alongside information on counseling providers, charities in need of help, and a video tribute to victims

“We will learn some things with you this year that were not on the syllabus,” faculty told Umpqua’s 13,000 students in an open letter published Monday. “We don't know exactly what that will look like yet, but we will learn about it together as we move forward."

The Comfort Dogs and their trainers hope to be a part of that progress.

“What you do w/those dogs is nothing short of amazing,” one Facebook user commented on LCC K-9's news page (2). “I saw you 1st on CNN in Newtown. I'll never forget the video of the dogs joining a prayer vigil & the children went from tears to smiles ... and even giggling. God Bless all of you!”

This report includes material from Reuters.

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