Lincoln comfort dog travels to Uvalde to help heartbroken community

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — A comfort dog from here in Lincoln will travel to Uvalde, Texas on Friday as students return to class this week. It comes just months after 21 people, including 19 children and two teachers, were shot dead at Robb Elementary School.

Joanna the dog and her handlers hope her calming presence will bring some comfort to this heartbroken community.

“Sometimes I’ll get her in the car and say, ‘Okay Joanna, time to go make some people smile.’ And she’s so good at it,” said Judy Hanika, Joanna’s trainer.

And that’s why the golden retriever and his handlers feel they need to be there for the students who experienced terrible bloodshed in May.

“We expect to see a lot of people suffer,” Hanika said. “That’s why we’re leaving.”

Joanna has responded to such horrific incidents before, heading to mass shooting sites in Boulder, Colorado and El Paso, Texas.

“They may cry or be upset at first, but once they start petting the dog, they start talking to the dog,” said Joanna, top dog at Lutheran Charities Church K-9 comfort dog. “Maybe they haven’t talked much, but they talk to the dog and sometimes those tears can turn into a smile.”

Joanna will be one of four dogs from Nebraska helping Uvalde this month, including another from Lincoln. They are all part of the Lutheran Church Charities team, which has a whole team of dogs from across the country who are trained to help those struggling with bereavement.

Joanna will be looking to lend a hand, or a leg, to those who need it most over the next week. She will be there until next Friday, September 16. Another Lincoln female dog, Priscilla, is currently on a team in Uvalde and will stay there until this weekend.

And now Joanna will bring a little calm to dozens of children, much like she does almost every day here at home, oonly rub the belly at once.

“It was difficult for them,” Hanika said. “Anything we can do to help them and show them how much they are loved and cared for is our goal.”


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