Our Story By Joann Bacon
Sandy Hook Elementary
After our daughter, Charlotte, died at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Joel and I did an amazing thing. We put our son on the bus and sent him to school on January 3, 2013 less than three weeks after the tragedy. It is amazing because our hearts wanted to never let him go, but our minds knew that we must trudge, crawl, and stumble our way into what used to be normal activities and part of our routine. Our son was grieving. His sister and most constant companion had been stolen from him and there is no escaping this kind of loss even for a second. On top of the overwhelming grief, he had to return to an environment that was forever changed. School no longer felt like a safe haven, and security and exit plans were in his constant thoughts. Concentration for schoolwork was nil, and the need to be alone and decompress were daily and sometime hourly occurrences.
When he arrived that first day in January, teams of dogs were there to greet him and other students. Soon he was coming home with Therapy Dog trading cards and smiling as he shared special moments with each of these dogs. The grief and all other baggage, of course, persisted, but somehow these dogs made school more bearable. By the end of the school year, he had made a special connection with a Boston Terrier. This special connection was mutual and Kona became our son’s protector, and comforter when in his presence. To this day, Kona, The Therapy Dog, and her special owner continue to visit our son’s school, making stops at the Guidance Office, other classrooms, and of course to see “her boy”. He feels safe, loved, and understood in this little dog’s presence.
Visits with Kona will evolve as he matures, as they should, but Joel and I know that if we are adaptable to our son’s needs we can tailor the visits so they are appropriate and helpful. As his parents, it is our responsibility to advocate and work hard for his well being not just at home but at school. We have learned some important lessons in this process, and they have evolved into Charlotte’s Litter. This program advocates for the use of therapy dogs and connects resources and experienced people that can provide helpful input and guidance to parents and educators in their quest to find an appropriate Therapy Dog for their school. We do all this, to honor our beautiful Charlotte, a little girl who aspired to be a veterinarian and loved dogs with a passion. We do all this, to enhance our son’s life and give him an alternative method to cope with burdens he must bear. We do all this, to assist families and educators bring crucial social and emotional aspects of children’s development to the forefront and be a proactive force. We do all this, with a passion.