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Therapy Animals Play Important Role Comforting Marjory Stoneman Douglas Students

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PARKLAND (CBSMiami) -- Animals are playing an important role comforting students and parents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on this first day back to school.

Students Return To Class For First Time After Mass Shooting At Florida School
Krystal Coleman,15, rides Touch as she left Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after attending her classes for the first time since the shooting that killed 17 people on February 14. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As students returned for the first time since the massacre, there was a heavy police presence designed to make the school feel secure. But there were also plenty of comfort animals including a donkey, dogs and horses. One of the horses had "eagle pride" painted on its side,  another had the word "strong" painted on it, while a woman held a sign saying "free kisses."

The Humane Society of Broward County's Animal Assisted Therapy teams were also at the school. The teams have been busy visiting local area schools, emergency dispatch centers, the MSD School Campus, as well as the funeral services of one of the victims to provide comfort and relief to those impacted by the shooting.

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MSD Principal Ty Thompson with (left to right) Jennifer and Chloe, Lolita and Zoe, Marni and Karma and Emily and Jax. (Courtesy: Humane Society of Broward County)

"The attention and affection of an animal is often a source of relief during difficult times like these," said Marni Bellavia, Manager of the Animal Assisted Therapy Program at the Humane Society.

The HSBC received this note from a MSD parent when her daughter went to school on the 26:

"Hello. I am the parent of a junior at Douglas and we went back on the campus yesterday for the first time since 2/14. We saw your therapy dogs all over, and I just wanted to personally thank you for being present. I hope you have some idea of how comforting and helpful it was to these kids to see. My daughter and I met Junior, a big bulldog with his tongue hanging out, and she talked about him for an hour afterwards, which is a nice break for her from talking about funerals, deceased friends and even going back to school. It's such an amazing thing you do."

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Humane Society of Broward County Animal Assisted Therapy Teams visiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Courtesy: Humane Society of Broward County)

The HSBC will gladly send a therapy dog, free of charge, to any school, organization, or group that is in need. Please contact to request a therapy team.

Grief counselors were on campus as well "to provide a lot of love, a lot of understanding" and help students "ease back" into their school routines, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said.

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