Diane Brasfield, a handler for Chloe the comfort dog, knew she wanted to travel to Newtown, Conn., as soon as she learned of the Dec. 14 tragedy that left 26 adults and children dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“My heart was here,” she said Wednesday from Connecticut.
She and handlers Bob Guetthoff and Sue Kessler – all members of Lord of Life Church near Elburn – traveled to Connecticut with the young golden retriever four days after the shooting, ready to comfort those in need.
“She’s used as a calming influence,” Lord of Life pastor Phil Ressler said of Chloe. “She provides comfort in the midst of grief.”
Chloe, who will turn 2 in February, has visited communities affected by Hurricane Sandy, retirement homes and funerals, church members said. Ressler said Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown invited Chloe – and other comfort dogs affiliated with Lutheran Church Charities – to help the mourning community.
Chloe’s team spent the morning of Dec. 19 at Newtown High School, Brasfield said. Stationed on a stage, Chloe was ready for students to hug, kiss or pet her.
“There were students nonstop,” Brasfield said, adding some visited Chloe more than once.
Time with Chloe gives students a chance to talk if they want, she said. She said the handlers take the children’s lead.
“This is the beginning of the healing process for them,” Brasfield said.
Brasfield said it was very emotional to be in Newtown, where businesses displayed signs reading, “Keep strong.” They also saw little memorials of teddy bears and flowers on many corners, she said. At the high school, she said, she got choked up when, through the public address system, a faculty member told the students they were so strong and made the educator proud.
While in Newtown, Chloe and her handlers also planned to visit Sandy Hook Elementary School, a preschool and the home of one of the girls who died, Brasfield said.
“That’s probably going to be the hardest part of our week, actually working with one of the little girls’ family,” she said.