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1 year after Parkland school shooting, therapy dogs get special yearbook honors

Fourteen therapy dogs who are helping Marjory Stoneman Douglas students cope with last year's shooting have their own tribute in the school's yearbook.
1 year after shooting at Parkland, Florida, school, therapy dogs honored in Marjory Stoneman Douglas yearbook
Aerie Yearbook
/ Source: TODAY

There are 14 friendly new faces in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's yearbook: the beloved therapy dogs who have helped students cope following last year's tragic shooting.

Each dog is dressed in its own unique style, ranging from bow ties to bandanas.

Marjory Stonemen Douglas honors its therapy dogs with yearbook photos
This therapy dog is featured with a bow tie.Strawbridge Studios Inc.

The Parkland, Florida, high school made headlines on Feb. 14, 2018, when a gunman opened fire, killing 17 people and injuring an additional 17.

When the students returned to school just two weeks later, the dogs were brought in to help the entire community cope with the tremendous trauma it had experienced.

This past fall, when students returned from summer vacation, so did the therapy dogs.

The 14 animals are on campus every day, bringing joy and comfort to the entire school community.

Marjory Stonemen Douglas honors its therapy dogs with yearbook photos
All of the dogs who serve on campus are included in the yearbook.Strawbridge Studios Inc.

“They provide comfort for us. They just make it really happy,” teacher and yearbook adviser Sarah Lerner told TODAY. “They are on campus every day. The students can go pet them and spend time with them at lunch. Some of the dogs go into the classes. I sometimes have them come into my English class.”

The first dog to be photographed for the yearbook was library media specialist Diana Haneski’s Bernese mountain dog, River.

“River became a part of their family last summer, so River belongs to the school for all intents and purposes. We took her picture during our picture day,” explained Lerner.

After the success of River's photo session, the yearbook team decided to include all of the school’s therapy dogs in the project.

“When we had picture retakes and makeups, they all came into my classroom where we were doing the pictures and throughout the day I had 14-15 dogs in my room,” said Lerner. “It was the greatest day of my life.”

Marjory Stonemen Douglas honors its therapy dogs with yearbook photos
Another dog donned a hair ribbon in honor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas picture day.Strawbridge Studios Inc.

The community continues to be impacted by the horrific events of 2018. In the past year, it faced the first anniversary of the shooting, two student suicides, and several other difficult, emotional challenges. As the school heals, the therapy dogs continue to serve an important mission.

“They really just provide a security and a big comfort to the kids,” said Lerner.

Now, as the students reflect on their year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, they can also reminisce on the animals who have provided solace.

Will the dogs return to campus next year?

"I'm not sure if they'll be back, but I sure hope they are," said Lerner.