By day's end on Thursday, 6 of the 19 LCC K-9 Comfort Dog teams were on-site by the memorial that was building at Pine Trails Park which is less than a mile from the high school. Other K-9 teams continued to arrive through Sunday, including law enforcement handlers from the LCC K-9 Police Ministry. The park is a place to enjoy tennis, soccer, yoga, a playground, and has a recreation center and an amphitheater for activities. Since that tragic day, the recreation center is now a counseling and service center for victims of the shooting. The amphitheater and grassy field in front of it has become a solemn place to mourn, grieve, and pray.
Each day at Pine Trails Park, the number of people stopping by increased, and the students would return to visit the crosses and stars that marked the memory of their friends and family members. The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs and their handlers did what they were trained to do – be present, listen, and pray. There is no comparison amongst tragedies. Nothing is the same and everyone has their own way of dealing with grief and loss. The LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry teams worked tirelessly in their mission to bring the mercy, compassion, presence, and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and in need. Students would tearfully share their stories of their friends and where they were that day. Parents often accompanied their children to the park to be close to them.
Within days of being in Parkland, the LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry teams received an invitation to work with the counselors of Broward County Schools. The Broward County School District is the sixth largest school district in the United States, with over 300 schools and approximately 300,000 students. The district had just finished their recovery from Hurricane Irma and had also assimilated thousands of children from Puerto Rico into the schools as a result of Hurricane Maria. It was an amazing accomplishment. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School would present another challenge that no school district would ever want to face.
During the first week on-site, along with being at the park, the LCC K-9 Ministry teams were assigned to visit over 20 elementary and middle schools in the surrounding communities to be with children who were afraid to come to or be in school. The teams visited the children and then worked with counselors to help specific children who were still having difficulty understanding what happened. The teams also visited schools where family members had lost loved ones and a school where a first grader had died in a fire. The teachers and staff at each of the schools are doing their very best to help the children feel safe and loved.
Teachers from the high school were brought together the Friday immediately following the shooting. After that, they had met mostly at funerals and at Pine Trails Park. Last Friday, the teachers were welcomed into the school to be with each other and to start planning their return. The LCC K-9 Comfort Dog teams were invited to be there to support the faculty, staff, and first responders. It was a reassuring moment and a positive break as they stood, sat, and laid with the dogs.
The second deployment is under way this week, with 12 LCC K-9 Ministry teams that will serve Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when the students return on Wednesday, February 28.
The LCC K-9 Ministry thanks you for your continued prayers and support that helps us bring the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ to the Parkland, Florida community. If you are so moved, please support us through donations to the K-9 Travel Expense Fund so that we can continue to serve this hurting community.