Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Comfort of a Dog

In the wake of what happened in Newtown Connecticut last week, I thought I would write about something near and dear to my heart.  The comfort pets bring to humans, especially at times like these.  It is simply amazing.

In my mediation practice, I often see short shrift given to the value of a pet in the emotional wellness of people going through relationship upheaval.  These pets are not seen as valued members of the unit. They often are not included in the settlement discussions because they are not seen as valued relationships going forward.  No benefit is recognized by the retention of a relationship or continued companionship.  For the sake of all the parties, including the pet, the pet needs to be recognized as an esteemed participant at the table in relationship breakups or living arrangement debates. 

The value of this kind of companionship was never more evident than in Newtown CT.  On Sunday night a group of 10 Golden Retrievers called ‘The Comfort Dogs,’ supported by The Lutheran Church Charities, gathered around the town Christmas tree and makeshift memorial in The Square.

In the aftermath of this unthinkable tragedy, this group of people drove 800 miles from Chicago, to little Newtown CT with their four legged furry companions.  The volunteers hoped their dogs would provide some comfort to a community whose hearts were broken.  Several parents who were interviewed said it was the first time they’d seen their children smile since Friday.  It was also the first time many of the adults had smiled and felt safe as well.

I was out of town when this tragedy struck.  I live about 20 miles from Newtown.  I was with dogs and dog people at the AKC Eucanuba Classic in Orlando, Florida.  I was probably closer to Newtown in Orlando than I would have been at home.  In Orlando, colleagues who live in Newtown surrounded me.  It was a devastating event for all of us, but particularly for those friends who come from this small close-knit community.

Those of us who live our lives with dogs know the comfort they bring to us.  It is why we engage in a sport where our dogs may be on the end of a leash but are also deeply embedded in our hearts as well.  The unconditional emotional support these animals give us, whether as our own or belonging to someone else, are gifts especially at times like these.  They are a source of comfort to their human companions. 

As I watched the Comfort Dogs from Chicago work their magic on the mourning crowd in Newtown, the value of a dog in one’s life was never clearer to me.  The Comfort Dog service highlighted the emotional attachment people have for pets.  It exemplified why my mediation practice focuses on helping people in conflict have the opportunity to retain a relationship with their pets.  Through the use of mediation, people can resolve where a pet fits into everyone’s future when the human relationships break up.  A court is ill equipped to address these needs or feelings of attachment because they are just that, feelings.  I am so grateful I am able support people and respect this animal/human bond.

Thank you Lutheran Church Charities for funding this important work. It is life changing for the people you touch.

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