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Last Updated on May 18, 2019
In an ideal world, this would never have to be a thing. Nor would the story leading up to it. Around the world, some 25 million kids play soccer every year. That is what yearbooks should be about. Between the myriad of sports, academic accolades, jest prizes, and foundational memories, the high school yearbook is a place where they’re collected, archived, and otherwise stamped into memory. Most of the people reading this probably have a yearbook or two and can point back to a few things that’ll make them both smile and cringe a little, but, hey, growing up is growing up.
Seveteen students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will never get yearbooks after being killed during the school shooting that took place February 14th, 2018. What became the deadliest high school shooting in United States history roused a movement led by the U.S. youth for better gun control laws. The March For Our Lives movement mobilized millions of young people around the nation, bringing protests to the Capitol, inspiring nationwide school walkouts, and turning up the volume of unrelentingly outraged voices.
Still, despite their outrage, the students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School (MSDS) had to pick up the pieces of their community and return to business as usual. Returning to regular classes and the routine familiarity of high school life after the shooting remains difficult. Managing grief and recovering from trauma is a journey that has been helped along by a few friends of the student body who are getting own spots in the yearbook.
And they are dogs.
Around the country, there are more than 900 dogs making sure our airports are safe. They guide people, protect them, and provide an intangible sense of comfort that we’ve yet to understand. At MSDS, 14 therapy dogs have been in regular daily attendance following the mass shooting.
“They are trained therapy dogs. They’re never unattended, they’re always on a leash and they’re so good-natured and well-mannered. They bring a sense of comfort and calm and relaxation. It’s wonderful,” said Sarah Lerner, the school’s yearbook adviser.
Where 95.4% of Americans give charitably, several organizations volunteered to bring this special cohort of canines to MSDS and the students and staff adore them. They adore them so much that in the 2019 yearbook — one year after the mass shooting — these dogs are getting their own page in it.
For the first eight years of life, children are naturally acquiring language skills. The language to process traumatic events and articulate certain feelings is incredibly difficult. Sometimes, what really helps is a fluffy dog to pet, hold, and hang out with. That’s exactly what this cuddly crew did (and still does). Naturally, they had to have them pose for the camera with lolling tongues and derpy grins.
“It’s a balancing act. After the shooting we wanted that yearbook to be perfect and had to cover as much as possible. This year, we wanted to give proper representation of our school and who we are now without giving so much focus to what happened to us in the past. The therapy dogs are the one thing from last year that is permanent and positive,” said MSDS junior Caitlynn Tibbetts, editor-in-chief of the yearbook.
All of them are featured in the yearbook. There’s even a posted tweet from a student showing two therapy dogs from the school going to prom together. The tweet itself acknowledges the darker nature of Twitter and how millions of users are very quick to focus on negativity and darkness. MSDS wanted to break that atmosphere without forgetting about the tragedy the community continues to overcome. What better candidates for such a job than dogs?
“There’s nothing a dog can’t fix,” said Lerner. “I’ll be teaching and in comes a dog and these big 18-year-old adults all of a sudden become mushy 5-year-old kids and it’s been such a comfort for us.”
Intent on making the yearbook a celebration of life and community bonding, the students of MSDS have turned the gaze of a nation to witness the true power human beings wield through togetherness.