Therapy dogs did more than school officials thought possible when they were brought in to help comfort students and staff after the death of Maren Sanchez April 25.
City officials recently issued a proclamation in honor of the dogs, and school officials thanked the handlers and everyone else who came to their emotional support after the fatal stabbing at their school.
Mayor Ben Blake’s proclamation, which he read at this month’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting, noted the therapeutic effects dogs have had since the 9th Century. He thanked representatives of Pet Partners, formerly Delta Society, and Newtown Kindness, a non-profit organization founded in memory of Charlotte Bacon, a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
“Charlotte’s Litter is a program of Newtown Kindness created by Charlotte’s parents and brother, not only because of Charlotte’s love for dogs, but also due to their own personal experiences with dogs in the wake of tragedy,” Mayor Blake said.
Newtown Kindness, through its program Charlotte’s Litter, facilitated the participation of Pet Partners and also helped to coordinate the dog teams in Milford — 55 volunteers along with their respective therapy dogs.
Blake’s proclamation thanked a number of dogs and their handlers by name: Bradford Cole with his dog, Spartacus, plus Steve Berko, with his dog, Dascha; Kate Nicoll with her dog, Muffin, and Donna Gleason with her dog, Socrates.
“They not only coordinated all the dog teams but were also in the field themselves with their therapy dogs,” Blake said.
Jonathan Law Principal Fran Thompson said the dogs and their handlers, who were at the school and a number of events after the stabbing, were remarkable.
“You made this very difficult process a lot better, and we have a long way to go,” Thompson said.
Maren Sanchez, 16, was stabbed at school April 25, the day she would have attended her junior prom. Fellow student Christopher Plaskon, now 17, is in jail, charged with her murder. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge, and his lawyers expect to base that plea on Plaskon’s emotional health. Social media accounts indicated after the stabbing that Plaskon killed Maren because she was not going to the prom with him.
School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser said the dogs came in during the days after the stabbing and that she was struck by the number of students who gravitated to them and just petted them.
“You could see the comfort,” Feser said. “You made a difference beyond what anyone would have imagined.”
Spartacus, a big, furry Akita, was brought to the junior prom, which was postponed from its original date. Dr. Feser said the dog was a big comfort at the event and “the hit of the junior prom.”
Dr. Feser thanked others, too, during the July aldermen’s meeting: The Department of Human Services, Bridges staff who offered counseling for students and staff, and the Jonathan Law High School staff, “whose courage was beyond what we could have hoped for.”
She also thanked local police. Among other support from the Milford police, local police took the junior class to Quassy Amusement Park as the school year drew to an end so they could relax and enjoy themselves.
State Rep. James Maroney offered a citation to the pet handlers, too, on behalf of Milford’s representatives in Hartford. “This is a citation I wish we didn’t have to give,” Maroney said, but he added that Milford is a small city with a big heart, and the volunteer efforts of so many people and groups after Maren’s death helped to demonstrate that.