year 2, week 8: this week i'm gonna... heal with therapy dogs
On January 3, 2013, Joel and JoAnn Bacon did a brave and amazing thing. They put their son, Guy, on the bus and sent him to school.
"The last time I had put a child on the bus," said JoAnn, "she did not come home." Charlotte, their daughter, had died three weeks earlier in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Guy was grieving. His sister and most constant companion had been stolen from him and he had to return to an environment that was forever changed. School no longer felt like a safe haven; security and exit plans were in his constant thoughts.
When Guy arrived that first day in January, teams of dogs were there to greet him and the other students. "The therapy dogs really helped a lot of children return to school," JoAnn says. "The students got cards with pictures of the dogs on them and started trading them."
The grief, of course, persisted, but somehow these dogs made school more bearable. By the end of the school year, Guy had made a special connection with a Boston Terrier named Kona. This special connection was mutual, and Kona became Guy's protector and comforter. To this day, Kona continues to visit the school, making stops at the Guidance Office, other classrooms, and of course to see Guy, “her boy”. Guy feels safe, loved, and understood in this little dog’s presence.
Guy wasn't the only person in the family who loved dogs. Charlotte knew that dogs were special too. "Each morning before school, Charlotte would lure Lily (the family's yellow lab) into her bedroom and tell her to wait there until she got home," JoAnn recalls. "I'd go looking for Lily later and realize she was in Charlotte's room." A normal 20-minute walk would take 40 minutes with Charlotte. She boldly stopped each dog walker, to pet, ask questions, and love every dog along the way.
Inspired by Charlotte’s deep love for dogs and the help the therapy dogs provided to Guy, JoAnn began doing some research. This was the spark that became Charlotte's Litter.
Charlotte’s Litter, a program supported by Newtown Kindness, was founded in honor of Charlotte Helen Bacon, a young dog lover, who tragically lost her life on December 14, 2012 in Sandy Hook, CT. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Charlotte's family and friends received comfort and love from local therapy dogs. In honor of Charlotte and the care they received, Charlotte’s Litter was founded.
The mission of Charlotte's Litter is to advocate and support therapy dog programs in educational and societal settings by connecting resources and experienced people, as well as providing input and guidance to parents and educators. The program’s aim is to advocate for animal-assisted activity with Therapy/Comfort Dogs and their roles as supportive friends and trusted companions. Charlotte's Litter strives to create turnkey programs that make Therapy/Comfort Dogs accessible to everyone who needs them.
You can watch more of Charlotte's story in the video below.
While doing her research, JoAnn learned that therapy dogs were working to help veterans, the elderly, and those in hospitals. There was evidence that dogs were useful tools when developing literacy in young students, supporting students with special needs, and helping older students manage their stress and anxiety. She also learned that this resource was not being utilized in most of our nation’s schools. JoAnn set her mind to change that and started advocating for the use of therapy dogs in educational settings.
JoAnn and her husband founded Charlotte’s Litter as a way to share their family’s personal experience and guide educators in implementing therapy dog programs in their own schools. "In our quest to honor (Charlotte), we found a renewed sense of purpose and the ability to give to others," states JoAnn. "The program is a way for us to continue to be parents to Charlotte," adds Joel.
Since the program’s inception, there has been slow but steady growth in schools choosing to introduce therapy-dog programs.
As another way to remember Charlotte, JoAnn and Joel wrote the children's book Good Dogs, Great Listeners: The Story of Charlotte, Lily and the Litter with the help of award-winning author Renata Bowers. "In the book," JoAnn explains, "we used (Charlotte's) beautiful attributes to share lessons about confidence, being a great listener, caring for a pet, and developing a love for reading." The book was released on Feb. 22, 2015, on what would have been Charlotte’s 9th birthday.
Notes for this week:
- National Love Your Pet Day is February 20th; Charlotte Bacon's birthday is February 22nd (this year she would have turned 11 years old)
- Guy Bacon also wrote a book about Kona and the other special therapy dogs that helped him and his friends after the tragedy. You can check it out here.
- Our collective givetwig donation will fund start-up costs for therapy dog programs in schools across the country.
- For more information regarding Charlotte's Litter, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to Charlotte's Litter.