After a tragedy like Wednesday’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a kind, friendly face is a welcome sight.
That’s where dogs like Jacob come in.
The 4-year-old golden retriever is a “comfort dog” specially trained to help survivors of tragedies. He was present in the aftermath of the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, as well as the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre in June 2016.
Now he’s got his paws on the ground helping the students, teachers and parents who are coming to grips with the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left at least 17 people, primarily children, dead.
Jacob is one of a few dozen dogs deployed by the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs Ministry.
Tim Hetzner, president and CEO of Lutheran Church Charities, says the dogs are trained to remain calm and soothe people who are grieving or distressed.
“They don’t bark, bite, jump up,” Hetzner told Yahoo News. “They’re trained to either sit or to lie down on the ground — it depends on the situation. A lot of times with students that are on the ground, the dog lies down on the ground, and they lie on top of the dog. They’re kind of comfort rugs with a heartbeat sometimes.”
It’s a job Jacob was born to do.
“In any litter of dogs, some are more hyper than others,” Hetzner told HuffPost. “We look for dogs that have a calm temperament and can remain relaxed even when they hear sirens or gunshots because we also do military funerals.”
Jacob has been working since he was 16 months old. He’s had a lot of on-the-job experience because of the number of mass shootings in recent years.
“I’d prefer they’d never have to be deployed for these type of situations,” Hetzner said.
Jacob is one of 130 dogs in 23 states who have been trained by LCC to be comfort dogs. He will likely continue his job until he is at least 8, though Hetzner says some dogs can do it for as long as 12 years.
Jacob was deployed from his home in Northbrook, Illinois, and will likely be in Parkland through Tuesday or Wednesday.
There are many grief-stricken people who need to be comforted, but Hetzner said Jacob’s handlers will take care to make sure he doesn’t get overwhelmed.
“These dogs take on the emotions of the people petting them,” Hetzner said. “So every 90 minutes, they get a break where they can run and play. And so do the handlers.”
The non-profit K-9 Ministry was founded in 2008, and depends on donations because it doesn’t charge the people it serves.
Hetzner said the group’s comfort dogs are all golden retrievers, for a variety of reasons.
“They’re good dogs by nature, they’re a lovable breed,” he said. “Also, because of their fur, they leave a little of themselves with everyone they meet.”