Golden retrievers sent to comfort Newtown in wake of Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre

NEWTOWN, Conn.—The dogs began arriving Saturday, when a charity group dispatched a team of golden retrievers to comfort residents here in the wake of Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Lutheran Church Charities in Addison, Ill., sent the group of nine dogs on an 800-mile journey to respond to the tragedy. They were in attendance at Sunday's interfaith vigil at Newtown High School, where President Obama spoke.

"They are nonjudgmental," Tim Hetzner, president of the charity, told the Chicago Tribune. "They are loving. They are accepting of anyone."

The dogs have traveled around the country to comfort people after disasters, Hetzner said.

Ken Whalen, who read about the Illinois group, drove to Newtown from Smithfield, R.I., on Tuesday morning to bring his 7-year-old golden retriever, Cooper, to the reopening of the town's public schools.

"I don't really have a plan," Whalen said, standing across from the street from Hawley School as the first buses started to arrive. "I just came to help."

At the makeshift memorial in Sandy Hook center, Mark Condon, a community college professor from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., stood with his nine-year-old golden retriever, Dutchess, a blind therapy dog who normally works with autistic children.

Scores of mourners (and several members of the media) paused to pet Dutchess, whose eyes were removed in 2011.

On Wednesday afternoon, the same memorial was visited by a half-dozen therapy dogs--including golden retrievers and black Labradors--who frolicked and, at one point, became tangled in the crosswalk, stopping traffic.

Up the road, yet another therapy dog--this one a yellow Labrador mix--lay in the grass outside Saint Rose of Lima Church, where a funeral service for one of the 26 victims in last week's massacre at the school was underway.