In the fall of 2013, the first Charlotte’s Litter Walkathon occurred in Fairfield Hills in Newtown, Connecticut. We had a massive turnout of therapy dogs that had been supporting our local schools since the Sandy Hook School shooting. It was a special day for dogs and humans alike. It was also the day we kicked off Charlotte’s Litter Therapy Dog Program.
For Joel and I, this program was the perfect blend of both of our children. Charlotte was a huge dog lover with dreams of becoming a “doggy doctor,” and Guy had benefited from many hours of interacting with the visiting therapy dogs at Reed Intermediate school following Charlotte’s death. The benefits of therapy dogs on our family were profound. We set out to help make this support available to students nationwide.
Initially, we had dreams of putting together “Litters of Therapy Dogs” that would travel to schools in need of visiting trained therapy dogs. We quickly re-framed our focus when we saw that we were trying to reinvent an already well-oiled wheel. So we turned our attention to supporting already formed therapy dog groups and organizations. These national organizations were doing tremendous work, but were lacking the personal touch we desired.
In 2017, we refocused the program again, this time focusing on giving monetary support to hand-selected schools to establish a therapy dog program in their school communities. We found this new model of gifting to be the perfect blend, providing the personal touch we were craving. Over the past five years, the Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation has given over $80,000 in grants to 45 schools, establishing therapy dog programs in schools to benefit students, as the therapy dogs had benefited our son all those years ago.
These schools embraced more than just the check that we sent them. They honored Charlotte’s legacy and memory, by hosting assemblies to welcome their new therapy dogs wearing Charlotte’s favorite color pink – or reading the book we wrote for Charlotte, Good Dogs,Great Listeners – The Story of Charlotte, Lily, and the Litter. One school even named their dog, Henry, after Charlotte’s beloved stuffed dog that was also a character in the book we wrote. In return, we have tried to visit these schools in person whenever possible. We were welcomed with hugs and gratitude that we returned. A kinship. Acts of Love.
– JoAnn Bacon
This article is the third in a series of “look backs,” originally published on Thursday, December 8, 2022.
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