Like so many people who’d never heard of Newtown before 20 kids and six adults were shot to death in Friday’s unfathomable mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Ken Whalen couldn’t believe what he was seeing and reading.
Also like so many of those same people, the Smithfield, RI resident desperately wanted to help in any way he could.
News of the tragedy has been “unavoidable,” Whalen said on a dreary, rainy Tuesday morning moments after arriving in the normally sleepy Sandy Hook neighborhood, located about 60 miles northeast of New York City.
At his feet sat Cooper, a 7-year-old golden retriever and service dog—specifically, a mobility and stability dog—that Whalen says may be able to comfort children through animal therapy.
"I bring him to nursing homes," Whalen said, adding that children can hug the dog.
Around Sandy Hook and Newtown—on the first day that students, except those who attend the devastated elementary school, returned to classes—police from multiple agencies have had a strong presence. Harrowing details of the massacre continue to emerge. According to one report early Tuesday, citing the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the gunman before blasting his way into the school shot his sleeping mother to death.
In the face of such horror and its wrenching after-effects, people such Whalen have tried to find some way—any way—to help the town, victims' families and to honor those who perished.
Cooper has experience in eliciting a simple smile, Whalen said.
"We go to Disney World every year," Whalen said. “He makes people happy."
Whalen said he had not yet spoken with authorities as to how he may help, but felt compelled to just get to Newtown, as he’s heard reports that other therapy dogs—and golden retrievers specifically—had come in from out of state to help.