Five Scout’s Angels service dogs wagged their tails outside The Villa restaurant Tuesday afternoon, August 13. They watched as people crossed the parking lot. The dogs and handlers, visiting Newtown from Denver to bring comfort to the community, soon met guests at an outdoor patio.
Sandy Hook Promise representative James Belden said his organization, which formed after 12/14, has helped to arrange venues for the guests, and “get them into the community and get as much exposure as possible.” With help form Sandy Hook Promise volunteer Laurie Kilchevsky, who coordinated various visits for the group throughout town, they found many happy faces on Tuesday, including Mr Belden’s son James, and daughters Lauren and Olivia. The three crowded around handler Jaceson Cole, with his dog Mellow.
Other therapy dogs and therapists visiting town were Mary Skene, with Stryder, Sarah Pellizzari with Putter, Melinda Hoover with Gracie, and Jaclyn Lockwood with Schroeder.
Ms Lockwood is originally from Newtown, which the Scout’s Angels organization did not know when they asked her to volunteer for this trip. As a University of Denver graduate who specializes in animal assisted therapy, she said, she is pleased to be “doing what I was trained for” in her own hometown.
Explaining that every dog has its own temperament, she said Schroeder “loves children and is sensitive to people who are down,” even when she and her dog are not on duty. “He seeks people out, and puts his head on their lap and they will tell me, ‘It’s funny, but I was feeling down.’”
Ms Lockwood is happy to see that dog-based therapy is gaining in popularity. Children especially “love talking to dogs,” she said. “They will tell the dog stories, and that opens conversation.”
Ms Skene had said that the gift of an animal/human bond helps reach people more quickly.
Laura Roach with Camp Bow Wow, which funds the free service dog project, said, “We want people to enjoy the dogs; we believe in the healing power of dogs.” Since school will begin soon, she wanted to “bring smiles to faces,” which they did.
Happy to be petting Gracie were Barbara and Mark Richardson, who volunteer with Sandy Hook Promise. Also volunteering with the organization and stooping to smooth Schroeder’s fur was Brookfield resident Carol Howe.
Natalie and James Parker knelt to hug and pet Stryder, amid guests enjoying wine, and soon dinner, on the patio overlooking Sandy Hook Center.
Watching the 30-plus people mingling at dinner hour, Ms Kilchevsky said the visit “has been so amazing and rewarding. They’re the nicest group.”
According to a recent press release, Camp Bow Wow, a national pet care franchise, in conjunction with its nonprofit organization the Bow Wow Buddies, announced the launch of its philanthropic Scout’s Angels program, with an inaugural visit to Newtown this week. This initiative will give the two therapy dogs, Cashew, a Labrador retriever, and Nutmeg, a whippet mix, to therapists in New Haven and Cheshire.
The group of service dogs arrived on August 11 and stayed through August 16.
“These lovable dogs and their therapist partners will spend time in the community with the families that lost loved ones in this tragedy. Our hope is that the healing power of dogs will help the entire community,” said Heidi Ganahl, Camp Bow Wow founder and CEO.
Among the many stops they made in town was an evening at My Place Restaurant, welcoming first responders to a dinner there. Ms Hoover glanced around a quickly filling room. “It’s been quite an honor and experience” to visit town, she said. Ms Pellizzari and Putter spoke with Laura Lerman, a Cultural Arts Commission member and HealingNewtown volunteer, and Ken Lerman, secretary of the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Association.
Sandy Hook Promise volunteer Rachel Doery spoke with friends and at the same time, Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Ladies Auxiliary member Marge Costa slipped into the room, with a glance at the service dogs. She stopped to speak briefly with Sandy Hook Promise member Terry Ritchie.
The Scout’s Angels initiative brings the Scout’s Angels Canine Care Team to locations around the country after a tragedy. For more information visit www.scoutsangels.org.
For additional information about Camp Bow Wow, Home Buddies, Behavior Buddies, or the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation, visit www.campbowwow.com.