Golden retriever who comforted students after Sandy Hook tragedy receives huge ASPCA honor

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Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Comfort Dogs is an incredible program.

Credit: Ruthie Comfort Dog Facebook page

Credit: Ruthie Comfort Dog Facebook page

It started in August 2008 with four dogs who were dispatched to help people who were struggling with various issues. Now, there are 130 golden retrievers on the force across 25 states.

One of those goldens is Ruthie. Ruthie has a special place in Connecticut: she visited Newtown after the Sandy Hook tragedy to comfort the students traumatized by that day.

One of those kids was Freddy Hubbard, the brother of Catherine Hubbard, a 6-year-old girl who was killed in the shooting.

"Four years ago this upcoming January we put Freddy on the bus with a lot of kids going back to school. We didn't really know what to expect, we didn't know how to act, we didn't know what questions to ask. But we quickly learned learned a new love language, and it was a language that was taught to us by a dog named Ruthie," said Jennifer Hubbard, Catherine and Freddy's mother.

Jennifer spoke at the ASPCA Humane Awards, as she and her family were picked to present Ruthie with her outstanding award: ASPCA's 2016 Dog of the Year.

It was quite meaningful for the Hubbard family to present the award: in 2013, Catherine Hubbard was posthumously named ASPCA's Kid of the Year for her love of animals,  a love recognized by her parents, who later launched the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation, which supports many projects, including an animal sanctuary named after her.

Courtesy of the website for the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation

Courtesy of the website for the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation

Ruthie spent weeks with the children from Sandy Hook Elementary, and the assignment had an additional significance to it: it was her first job.

"Freddy and the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary had unrestricted access to comfort dogs that graced the halls of Sandy Hook. Every time Freddy visited Ruthie and her colleagues, they'd present him with a business card, and so when Freddy would get off the bus he would share with us his stack of business cards. It was the insight to how his heart was for that day. If he had a lot of cards, it was not a good one. If he had few, then we were on the path to healing," Jennifer explained.

Since then, Ruthie has responded to tragedies across the country to provide comfort, from Boston after the marathon bombing, to Dallas following the police attack, to Oklahoma after tornadoes ripped through homes and to Orlando after the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

Jennifer fittingly said, "The thing is, the love and compassion of Ruthie and the Lutheran Church Charities reach so much farther than the walls of Sandy Hook, and it reaches so much farther than the tragedies that they react to. Ruthie's unspoken love language was a grace and a gift that was given to us that we will be forever grateful. It is our honor and our privilege to present Ruthie the 2016 Dog of the Year Award."

There to accept the award on Ruthie's behalf was Lutheran Church Charities President Tim Hetzner, who said, "There's something about a dog, a sixth sense. You know, how many friends do you know that show unconditional love, are confidential, don't take notes, that love you no matter what, and they wag their tail at you? I don't know anybody that does that consistently, all those things. But that's what dogs do."

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