Counselors have been on hand at Jonathan Law High School since 16-year-old Maren Sanchez was stabbed to death Friday – and so have therapy dogs.
Over the years, the dogs have comforted many who've dealt with tragedy, and now the Milford community is relying on them as they struggle to heal.
"They just run their fingers through [the dog's] fur, and the reaction is 'It's going to be okay,'" said Brad Cole, Senior Coordinator for K-9 First Responders, a non-profit.
They come in all sizes with varying personalities, but the most important characteristic of therapy dogs is their ability to comfort.
"People just come over and sit on the floor with them and pet them for a little while, and it gets them to open up sometimes," said Jason Stacoffe, a Milford first responder who owns therapy dog Jerry Lee.
Within minutes of being called to assist, Brad Cole and his dog Spartacus arrived at Jonathan Law High School and began working to bring in the 54 therapy dogs that have been available for students and staff.
"One of the students said – and I was touched and I was surprised – and she said, 'This is the best thing the school could have done for us,'" said Cole.
The idea is not to counsel, but rather to put people at ease and make them feel safe. It can be the first step for those suffering to seek help.
With emotions running high, a dozen of the dogs attended Monday night's vigil.
Therapy dogs have been something another town found invaluable.
"In Newtown for example, these therapy dogs were the single most important mental health resource the community had. Period. Hands down," said Cole.
They've become so worthwhile that Cole says he's working with Milford Public Schools to have a therapy dog available at every school.
Seeing the difference the dogs have made, volunteers hope it becomes reality.
"It's good to know you're helping people," said Stacoffe. "You can't do everything, but at least a part of their day is a little bit better and makes them a little bit happier."
Cole says they'll have about 10 dog teams at the school Tuesday morning to greet students as they come off the bus and that they'll be there all week during school hours for anyone who needs them.