Nebraska comfort dog will be there when students return to Florida school struck by mass shooting

FREMONT — "She is showing up to do her job and bring comfort to a really hurting community," said Dawn Gilfry, one of Katie's three volunteer handlers, ahead of the students return to school.

A Nebraska golden retriever named Katie will be providing comfort to students who need healing.

The specially trained dog from Fremont will be at the Florida high school where a gunman killed 17 students and staff members on Feb. 14. Katie and her handlers are already in Florida and will be at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday when students resume classes on a modified schedule.

"She is showing up to do her job and bring comfort to a really hurting community," said Dawn Gilfry, one of Katie's three volunteer handlers.

Katie is one of five Nebraska dogs trained through a Lutheran Church Charities program, which has more than 130 golden retrievers in two dozen states. The dogs are owned either by a Lutheran church, school or college. Katie is owned by Trinity Lutheran Church in Fremont.

The dogs go through more than 2,000 hours of training so they can remain calm in large crowds and around emotional people.

Katie and her handlers arrived in Florida on Monday, and the dog was interacting with teachers and other staff members at the school Tuesday.

Katie is among 12 dogs that will be at the school this week. Those dogs are taking over for an initial group of 19 dogs that arrived soon after the shooting. The first group spent time at community centers that were gathering spots for students and others affected by the tragedy.

Katie, who is almost 4, has provided comfort following other mass shootings in recent years, including one at a concert in Las Vegas last fall and at a community college in Oregon in 2015. She also visits such places in Nebraska as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

Katie, and dogs like her, are trained to follow voice commands such as to put paws on a person's lap, to put paws on a bed and to rise onto a bed.

Tim Hetzner, president and CEO of the Lutheran charity, said one of the dogs' most important skills is to let people envelope them with hugs, he said. Sometimes people will just lay on the dogs for comfort and healing.

The dogs, he said, are "like comfort rugs with a heartbeat."

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