LAS VEGAS, Nevada-- During the worst mass shooting in modern history, when most people were staying far away from Vegas, more than 100 comfort dogs headed into Sin City to lift people's spirits and give them a sense of normalcy. One was from Illinois.
"People just look at golden retrievers and just go, 'Awwwww,'" said James Casner, who trains a comfort dog named Reuben.
Reuben is one of about 130 dogs that are part of Lutheran Church Charities' comfort dog program. Ever since Hurricane Katrina, the group has sent dogs to disaster zones after hurricanes, schools & nightclubs after shootings, and most recently, to the Las Vegas strip and California to deal with the aftermath of wildfires.
Reuben's job is to lighten the mood during people's darkest days. He was one of 18 comfort dogs sent to Vegas to help people in need, following the concert massacre.
"We noticed immediately when we arrived," Bonnie Sloan, another comfort dog handler, observed. "It got their mind off the situation for just a little while. They could smile and relax. You could see the ease of their bodies when they interact with the dogs."
Casner agrees, "You hear the, 'Ahhhh,' and you actually see people smile. People who haven't smiled in hours or even days now are smiling."
From visiting victims' families in hospital rooms to comforting the first responders and 9-1-1 dispatchers who dealt head-on with tragedy, dogs like Reuben are making a difference one visit at a time.
Reuben's handlers say it's amazing how much people open up and let out their deepest emotions in the presence of a dog, more so than a person.