While many South Dakota students head back to school on Thursday for the first time in the New Year, so did those who survived the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
Twenty first grade students and six teachers lost their lives in the shooting. But, while the students settled into their old, familiar desks, for the first time since the deadly shooting, it was in a different school building, in an altogether different town.
Helping the students cope with the situation on their first day back at school were therapy dogs. Canine therapy is used here in KELOLAND. The dogs visit many nursing homes, assisted living centers and children in the hospital.
While it might be a cloudy day outside the Sanford Castle on Thursday, there are plenty of smiles inside thanks in part to Dizney and his big brown eyes and soft coat of fur.
Dizney is a therapy dog. He's visiting six-year-old leukemia patient Elsie Marienau. And for the moment, neither of them seems to care about all of the medical equipment surrounding them.
"The dogs will bring a calmness and a softness and happy, touchy feeling that it’s going to be okay and things aren't going to be sad anymore," Dog Therapy volunteer Carol Everetts said.
Peggy Moyer: Does Dizney help make you smile?
Elsie Marienau: Yeah.
Everetts has made more than 1,000 visits with Dizney over the past five years, mostly to see children and the elderly. Everetts believes Dizney's gentle demeanor provides love or at least trust at first sight and says Dizney seems to know what to do with the relationship from there.
"It's a wonderful thing to see a therapy dog at work because it knows how to interact with the situation the person brings to the dog," Everetts said.
Disney makes weekly visits to Sanford Children's Hospital, but in all, there are more than 40 therapy dogs here in KELOLAND.
So, what is it about dogs and their ability to provide comfort? Everetts doesn't know of any science behind it, but says she sees it in action every time the two make a stop.
"It's just a wonderful experience. It's very hard to explain. You just have to see it happen," Everetts said.
While dogs are 'man's best friend,' Dizney has a way of making the person he's with at the moment, feel like his best friend.
"All of a sudden, I look around and everyone's smiling. They are happy again and it's a very heart warming experience. They can just cheer up about anyone that way because they are so calm, accepting and quiet," Everetts said.
Dizney is an eleven-year-old golden retriever. Everetts says a dog’s disposition has more to do with its ability to be a therapy dog than any formal training.