Like many around the country, Michael Cragin was overwhelmed by helpless anguish after Friday’s tragic schoolhouse slayings in Newtown. Cragin, however, is a 30 year resident of the Connecticut community, and intimately connected to it. He’s been both a special education teacher, now retired, and a volunteer firefighter. He lay awake all night Friday, trying to come to grips with what had happened.
“I thought, you know, maybe if I get up, maybe it didn’t happen, you know, maybe it was a dream.”
But it did happen. When Cragin got up Saturday morning, he looked at his English bulldog, Truman, and had an answer about how to help. He and Truman went to Dunkin Donuts at 7:00 a.m. and sat in the open back of his SUV with a sign: “My bulldog gives hugs.”
It was an excellent impulse. Studies have shown the healing effects of therapy dogs in a variety of settings: nursing homes, children’s wards, cardiac units, psychiatric wards, even with comatose patients. Blood pressure goes down, anxiety levels are reduced, and pain becomes less prominent.
By Saturday afternoon, Truman had given over a hundred hugs; two teen-aged girls stopped crying as they paused to get theirs. Craigin said:
“He wants to give them that hug and that seems to be what counts… It’s the type of thing that people will for that brief second leave the nightmare behind, just to hug him, and that’s what I was hoping on, because I don’t know what else to do.”
Judging from the feedback he got from residents, what he and Truman did together was just right.
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