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Article updated: 5/9/2013 7:41 PM

Arlington Heights comfort dog, handler highlighted on 'Good Morning America'


Ever since turning over the management of Flaherty Jewelers in Arlington Heights to his daughter, Katie, Mike Flaherty has gone to the dogs. Literally.

He is an active volunteer with the Buddy Foundation, a no-kill shelter in Arlington Heights, and over the last three years he and his wife, Sharon, have become certified handlers with the Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 comfort dogs.

On Wednesday, Flaherty appeared on the ABC show "Good Morning America" as one of 10 handlers and their golden retrievers being honored for their responses to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the Boston Marathon bombings.

"It was a great experience," Flaherty said. "We were right there at Times Square, where we were mobbed by people wanting to pet the dogs."

Flaherty and the rest of the handlers were surprised to learn they had been selected for the morning show's "You're Not Dreaming" series, where reporters select stories that have inspired them.

Lara Spencer selected the comfort dogs, she said, after learning about them while covering the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Spencer said she still thinks about how the dogs brought a calming presence to people who needed it most.

"I remember seeing these beautiful golden retrievers, wagging their tails, simply waiting to be petted," Spencer said. "Their presence gave the townspeople a moment they couldn't get anywhere else."

During the show, the handlers and their dogs walked out on a red carpet. Flaherty was seen on camera handling Hannah, a dog owned by Barb Granato of Arlington Heights. She was one of the first dogs on the scene in Newtown and has returned once more, Flaherty said. Hannah also regularly visits local schools and nursing homes.

The dogs were treated to a goody bag and a spa treatment, while the handlers received gift certificates to Bliss Spa. The biggest surprise came when "GMA" anchors showed the crew the full-size van being donated to them for one year by Hertz rental car.

"We were totally surprised," said Tim Hetzner, president of the Addison-based Lutheran Church Charities. "This will be a tremendous help. Instead of having to rent a van, we'll now have one that we know is trustworthy, at least for a year."

The dogs and their handlers visited with NBC News anchor Brian Williams after their "Good Morning America" appearance, before setting out in their vans to drive to Boston.

They were to spend two days there, visiting a hospital today and then attending a memorial service Friday at First Lutheran Church of Boston.

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