Pets

'A distraction from reality': Comfort dogs bring peace to Boston victims 

April 17, 2013 at 5:03 PM ET

Of all the traits that make dogs special, here’s one of the best: They don’t judge you when you cry.

For that reason, specially trained therapy dogs deployed by Lutheran Church Charities are making bedside visits to dozens of hospitalized victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Many patients are responding mightily to the one-on-one doses of canine comfort.

“It's relaxing — takes my mind off of what happened,” said David Yepez, 15, who is recovering from surgery at Tufts Medical Center after being hit in the leg by shrapnel at the epicenter of Monday’s blast.

“It’s good to have my mind away from the accident, the doctors. To have a moment of peace. [I haven’t] had many moments of peace.”

Lee Ann Yanni is another bombing survivor who relished a visit Wednesday from empathetic four-legged friends. Two golden retrievers gazed adoringly at the runner right before she underwent surgery on her shattered leg. At the time of the bombings, Yanni had been training to run her first full marathon in Chicago in October.

Image: Lee Ann Yanni with comfort dogs in hospital
Courtesy Lutheran Church Charities
Lee Ann Yanni had been training to run her first full-distance marathon in October at the time of the Boston Marathon bombings. She said she's planning to run again when she recovers.

“She said she’s absolutely planning to run again,” said Rev. Ingo Dutzmann, senior pastor of First Lutheran Church in downtown Boston, which is serving as home base for five of Lutheran Church Charities’ “K-9 Comfort Dogs.”

Video: Lee Ann and Nick Yanni: We were '10 feet from the finish'

Dutzmann noted that the dogs — all golden retrievers — have an uncanny ability to calm and connect with injured survivors as well as hospital workers and random passersby on the street.

“We have people simply walking by on the sidewalk who see the dogs ... and with the memory of Monday, they break into tears,” Dutzmann said. “It’s the dog that allows them to express their emotions in that way, and if you’re hurting, you’ve got to let it go. With a dog, people are not afraid to do that.”

On Tuesday, three comfort dogs flew from Lutheran Church Charities’ headquarters near Chicago to Boston, where they joined two golden retrievers who had been working with grieving pupils and parents at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

'Like furry counselors': Comfort dogs deployed after Boston bombings

Image: Yenni Campusano, age 2, with a comfort dog
NBC
Even young hospital patients who were not directly affected by Monday's bombings, like 2-year-old Yenni Campusano, feel better after a visit from a comfort dog.

The five dogs and their handlers have their work cut out for them in Boston. They will spend the rest of this week visiting bombing survivors at Tufts Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and will keep making hospital rounds next week if needed.

Their hospital visits benefit medical personnel who also are reeling from Monday’s attack. Meghan Bennett, a 25-year-old nursing student who has been caring for bombing victims, said the dogs have helped her maintain perspective.

Image: Hospital workers with comfort dogs in Boston
Courtesy Lutheran Church Charities
Nursing students are grateful for the presence of the comfort dogs in the wake of Monday's bombings. "My stress level has gone way down," said Meghan Bennett, right.

“My stress level has gone way down,” Bennett said. “I just love dogs ... and this is a distraction from the reality. Patients’ faces light up when a dog walks into the room.”

The golden retrievers also will be present at First Lutheran Church of Boston at noon Friday for a memorial service and on Sunday morning for worship services.

“Dogs don’t speak theology,” Dutzmann said. “They just speak love.”

NBC senior producer Mary Murray contributed to this report.

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