Kid's Best Friend

Comfort Dogs Are Greeting Uvalde Students On Their First Day Back to School

The Uvalde school district invited back comfort dogs to help ease anxiety in fearful students.

A young girl pets a comfort dog at a vigil for the 21 people killed at Robb Elementary School.
Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images News/Getty Images

For some of the students going back to school in Uvalde, Texas, feelings of unease and anxiety are understandably tagging along. In May 2022, Robb Elementary was the scene of a devastating mass shooting, taking the lives of 19 students and two teachers, and traumatizing many of the surviving students.

Even though the students won’t be going to Robb Elementary itself, which will torn down and rebuilt, just getting off the bus and reentering a classroom can bring up feelings of dread, cause flashbacks, or produce fear.

The Uvalde community and school district decided to reach back out to some furry friends for support in helping their students feel comfortable going back to class. Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry (and 10 of their dogs) were invited back to help ease anxiety and fear as students went back to school. The dogs first made their appearance in June 2022, shortly after the shooting, attending some students’ funerals and providing comfort to the community while the trauma of what students experienced still settled in.

Now that summer has come and gone — and Uvalde students are gearing up for another school year — the school district wanted to see if these canines would work their magic again. Some students did not want to get out of their cars in the drop-off line on that first day at school in Uvalde, but when greeted by a friendly, smiling Golden Retriever, some felt a bit better about starting the morning.

“There was a lot of hesitancy and anxiety about getting out of the car and going into the school. So we placed the dogs outside, and I do believe that that did help some of the kids see that dog and go, ‘OK, well, I'm going to go pet the dog,’” Bonnie Fear, crisis response coordinator for the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, told CNN.

Fear also noted that the dogs will adapt and adjust to however the students best seek their comfort, whether that is greeting them at their cars or sitting next to them in class. “That will keep changing as the needs arise, as the kids get into their routine — and where the dogs are needed, the counselors will instruct us where to go,” Fear said. “Our goal is to be present with those that are hurting and in need, and we show up and just be with them in whatever they're feeling.”

The presence of these K-9s is not just for show. There is scientific backing that suggests the presence of a dog can actually reduce anxiety and improve one’s mood, and that animal assisted therapy has been shown to improve moods in children and adults with physical or mental health issues.

"We get invited, we show up, and we let the dogs do their work," Fear said.

Here’s to a good, calm school year for the young students of Uvalde. Next up let’s tackle better gun laws and mental health support?