We see, hear and read about so much darkness and tragedy in this world. There was the Boston Marathon bombing, the Orlando nightclub shooting and the tragic loss of 20 first graders who were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The family and friends of the Sandy Hook victims, as well as the other students, needed comfort after that terrible day in December 2012, and they received it in the form of a four-legged creature named Ruthie. The Golden Retriever is a comfort dog through Lutheran Church Charities, and visiting Sandy Hook Elementary School was her very first assignment, TODAY reports. Since then she’s visited the sites of more than 20 tragedies. She does so well at her job that ASPCA has named her Dog of the Year of 2016.
It was on her first deployment in Sandy Hook that Ruthie comforted Freddy Hubbard, a then-9-year-old whose 6-year-old sister, Catherine, was one of the shooting victims. The idea of even going back to school after losing his sister was daunting.
“To put your kid on the bus and say, ‘Everything’s going to be fine, you’re going to be OK’ — there’s some sort of oxymoron to that,” Catherine’s mother, Jenny Hubbard, told TODAY. “Really? Is he really going to be OK? But one of the blessings that came to us was that the dogs were there.”
Freddy and the other students were allowed to spend as much time as they needed with Ruthie and the other deployed specially trained therapy dogs. Every time they visited with one of the dogs, they got a business card. On that business card was the dog’s picture, name and title as well as an encouraging message. Jenny and her husband, Matt, found that these business cards were the best way to tell how their son did that day.
“If he came home and pulled six business cards out of his pocket, I knew he was dealing with some heavy stuff that day,” Jenny Hubbard told TODAY. “But if he pulled out only a couple of business cards, I knew that we were OK, we were on a good track that day. Because of those cards, we didn’t have to say to him, ‘How was your day?’ It was such a crappy question to ask. His day was awful. My day was awful. My husband’s day was awful. We were all having to learn a new normal. But thanks to the dogs, he could come home and tell me how he was doing without having to put it into words.”
Fittingly, the Hubbard family will present Ruthie with the Dog of the Year award at a luncheon today, Nov. 17, in New York. And Ruthie deserves the honor. She is being given the award because she “has provided relief to both victims and responders, keeping stress levels down and providing comfort to grief-stricken survivors. Ruthie’s presence was particularly impactful during her six weeks in Newtown, the scene of the Sandy Hook tragedy, where she helped traumatized young girls and boys – who hadn’t spoke since the shootings – come out of their shells,” ASPCA wrote on their site.
The honor is well-deserved indeed.