Our Story By JoAnn Bacon
Sandy Hook Elementary
On January 3, 2013, less than three weeks 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. In addition to the overwhelming grief, he had to return to an environment that was forever changed. School would never feel 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 ad decompress were frequent 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, the therapy dog, became our son’s protector, and comforter when in his presence. Years later, this special bond continues. Kona and her special owner have become close friends and continue to support our family by volunteering with our Charlotte’s Litter program.
Visits with Kona and our son evolved as he matured and continued to learn new coping mechanisms, the school visits eventually stopped. Joel and I learned important lessons in this process and those lessons evolved into Charlotte’s Litter. This program advocates and supports 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 program 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 this, to honor our son’s life experiences. We do 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 this, with dedication and love.