Blog #1: Processing days following
As I sat there in a room of hundreds of students and parents, listening to a victim of the Columbine shooting that happened almost 20 years ago, a sadness and fear overcame me. It really happened, Columbine which seemed like an unrealistic movie had happened in our community just last week. Overcome with dread for what these young people faced that day, it was the reality of what their future would look like that ripped at my heart the most. As I listened to her tell the story of that day, hiding under a table in the library as the shooter walked by, my eyes gazed to a dog lounging on the floor at the side of the room. Yes, a dog. At first glance I thought it was a security dog but as my eyes focused, the vest it wore said Canines for Christ. Our eyes met and mine were instantly filled with tears. This dog was not for security, it was for comfort.
Her name I would soon find out was Coco and she indeed was a therapy dog. I spent some time petting her and speaking to her handler when a young girl approached. She joined our conversation and rattled on about how nice Coco was and about her dog at home. Soon the conversation turned as she said, “I knew him, I’m pretty sure I hugged him once.” I asked her to clarify and soon found out that she was talking about the alleged shooter at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School just a few days earlier. We were able to get a pastor and the parents to this child as she was processing her knowledge of this alleged shooter. Barrier breakers, that’s how I can describe therapy dogs. With their sweet, soul touching eyes and unconditional, non-expecting love they allow humans to process emotions and thoughts. That’s what I witnessed that day, as Coco just laid there unassuming, I listened and we were able to get a young girl the help she needed.
Blog #2: Back to School
It was time they returned to school. It was several weeks after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and it was time for the students to go back to the place of the massacre. On February 14, 2018 a gunman entered that campus with a semi-automatic rifle, killed 17 and injured 17 more. Therapy dogs were asked to be at the school for any child that needed comfort. As we walked outside through the corridors of the cement buildings it was amazing to see the variety and number of dogs with their handlers sitting inside classrooms or outside at picnic tables silently petting the patient pups.
I had the opportunity to be with Coco, an experienced German Shepherd Certified Therapy Dog and her handler inside a classroom sitting on the floor with some students when one young man approached. He was very quiet and I sensed his sadness. We talked about how he loves the theatre but his expression did not match his words as I felt the overwhelming darkness that consumed his heart. I asked him “Are you brokenhearted?” For the first time, he looked at my eyes and nodded. To which I replied, “Do you know what the Bible says about the brokenhearted?” He shook his head side to side indicating he did not know. I said “God, is close to the brokenhearted. That means that God is right here.” As I tapped his shoulder, his eyes filled with tears and he said with the face of a little boy wanting to believe with all of his heart, “Really?” And I smiled and said, “Really. God will never leave you nor forsake you. He is with you and that’s why we are here. To tell you that.” His eyes shifted to Coco as he continued to stroke her fur and I prayed silently. Only God can penetrate these overwhelmed, dark hearts of grief and bring light, love and healing and sometimes he uses therapy dogs to help.