Comfort Dogs Deliver Smiles to Orange County During Time of Healing

Community & Services

In the wake of tragedy, Lutheran Church Charities’ K-9 Comfort Dogs deployed to Orange County, Fla., to help soothe the pain of those impacted by the Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting.

Golden Retrievers from all over the U.S. traveled to Orlando to comfort survivors in the hospital, families of the victims, Pulse employees, first responders and members of the community.

Among those who received a visit from these furry friends were employees at the Orange County District Nine Medical Examiner’s Office and the Orange County Government Administration Center.

The Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office worked around the clock to identify, autopsy and reunite the 49 victims of the Pulse tragedy with their families.

“We had been working nonstop. Throughout the last couple of days, my office has had time to reflect on what happened,” Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany said when the comfort dogs came to visit. “My staff may not be able to describe what they’re feeling, but you can tell by their smiles and the way they are laughing that these dogs are helping them get back to normal.”

The comfort dogs, whose vests read “Please Pet Me,” complete a one-year training program, starting when the pups are just eight weeks old. They have traveled to Newtown, Conn., following the Sandy Hook shooting and to Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings to offer comfort and warm snuggles during a time of grieving.

“It has been really great for us. I think the dogs make a huge difference; your comfort level goes up and it helps people relax,” Director of Orange County Health Services Dr. Christopher Hunter said. “It puts a little joy in our staff’s lives and helps them go back out there and do a job that is very difficult.”

During the dogs’ visit to the Medical Examiner’s Office, ABC News documented the love and hugs the golden retrievers brought to the staff. Watch ABC’s video.

As for Dr. Stephany, he says it’s important to have a way to decompress after work each evening, which is why he has two golden retrievers of his own; Kennedy and Gronkie.

“My dogs don’t care what I do at work each day,” Dr. Stephany explained. “They just want to have someone to play with, pet them and walk them. They keep me grounded.”

To view photos from the K-9 Comfort Dogs’ visit to the Medical Examiner’s Office, visit Mayor Jacob’s Flickr album.

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