LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — A comfort dog from right here in Lincoln will be heading out to Uvalde, Texas on Friday as students returned to class this week. This comes just months after 21 people, including 19 children and two teachers, were gunned down Robb Elementary School.
Joanna the dog and her handlers hope her calming presence will bring some comfort to this heartbroken community.
“Sometimes I get her in the car and I say, ‘Ok Joanna it’s time to go make some people smile.’ And she is so good at that,” said Judy Hanika, Joanna’s handler.
And that’s why the golden retriever and her handlers feel they need to be there for those students who experienced terrible bloodshed back in May.
“We expect to see a lot of people hurting,” Hanika said. “That’s why we’re going.”
Joanna has responded to these kinds of horrific incidents before, heading to mass shooting sites in Boulder, Colo. and El Paso, Texas.
“They may be crying or upset at first, but once they start petting the dog they start talking to the dog,” said Susan Holland, the top dog for Lutheran Charities Church K-9 comfort dog, Joanna. “Maybe they haven’t talked a lot but they are talking to the dog and sometimes those tears can change to a smile.”
Joanna will be one of four dogs from Nebraska helping out in Uvalde this month, including another from Lincoln. They are all a part of the team at Lutheran Church Charitieswhich has an entire team of dogs from across the country that are trained to help those struggling with grief.
Joanna will look to lend a hand, or paw, to those who need it most over the next week. She will be there until next Friday, Sept. 16. Another dog from Lincoln, Priscilla, is currently a part of a team in Uvalde right now and will be there until this weekend.
And now, Joanna will bring some calm to dozens of children, much like she does almost every day back here at home, one belly rub at a time.
“It’s been tough for them,” said Hanika. “Whatever we can do to help them and show them how much they’re loved and cared for, that’s our purpose.”