Ken Fay, an elder at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, found himself in an unexpected and thrilling situation on June 7: being applauded by former Star Trek star and well-known actor Leonard Nimoy. Both men were at the New England Emmy Awards presentation at the Copley Plaza in Boston, recipients of what was a first for both of them, an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Mr Nimoy received an Emmy for his lifetime achievement in the acting community. Mr Fay, a senior video producer in Seymour for Comcast, is the writer, director and producer of a ten-minute mini-documentary called Wags ‘n’ Tales, a behind the scenes look at the Lutheran Christian Charities (LLC) Comfort Dog Program.
The documentary was nominated by Comcast this past spring in the Children/Youth Programming division, and Mr Fay said that there was no greater joy than hearing his name called at the June 7 presentations, bounding up on the stage, and holding the shining Emmy in his hands.
“It’s the real deal,” he said, and the experience was so surreal, he does not recall what he said or whom he thanked in the immediate moments following the announcement.
Wags ‘n’ Tales grew out of Mr Fay’s experiences following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.
“I had never heard of comfort dogs before 12/14,” he said, “and then they all showed up at my church, just two days after the tragedy. They were a calming presence,” said Mr Fay.
It was a difficult time for members of Christ the King Lutheran Church, he said, as they comforted each other and the church family of one of the SHS victims. As an elder in the church, he is there to provide guidance and to direct people to where they can find answers. He saw that the comfort dogs were one way in which he could direct people to comfort in a most difficult moment.
The comfort dogs that arrived in December 2012 were based out of the LCC in the Chicago area. Among them were two golden retrievers, sisters Maggie and Addie, who quickly endeared themselves to the church community and beyond.
“We were all wrapped up in how do we come together?” said Mr Fay. The dogs, he noticed, provided a moment of connection for those they visited, and the kindness of the handlers was remarkable.
“Part of my job [at Comcast] is doing documentaries,” said Mr Fay. “Following 12/14, there was a lot of news going out of [Newtown and Sandy Hook],” he observed. Much of that news, for months, was heart-rending, though, and not always positive.
As the first anniversary of the shooting drew near, producers at Comcast looked to Mr Fay, due to his strong ties to Newtown, for ideas on if and how the event could be commemorated.
So impressed had Mr Fay been by the power of love shown by Maggie and Addie, who have remained in the area since December 2012, that he had trained as a comfort dog handler the summer of 2013. He is one of 14 handlers for Maggie, who is in the care of Christ the King Lutheran Church. Addie has been adopted by Immanuel Lutheran Church in Danbury, and the two dogs frequently travel together, delivering the unconditional, nonjudgmental solace for which they are known.
He suggested that a video to show the healing of the Newtown community with a positive message, featuring Maggie and Addie, might be the best way to honor the memories of those killed 12/14.
“A lot of people here have a connection to [Maggie]. It’s a beautiful thing,” he said.
“I’ve always loved animals,” said Mr Fay, who is also the public affairs officer on the major’s staff at the Second Connecticut Governor’s Horse Guard in Newtown. Becoming a handler allowed him to give back to the community and gave him the opportunity to get to know Maggie and Addie better. He felt that a documentary for young people, showing not only the dog’s outreach, but providing information on how the dogs and handlers were trained and what it is like to live with a comfort dog, would be well received.
The Fabric Of Healing In The Community
“I’m still pinching myself,” Mr Fay said, as he did not go into the production of Wags ‘n’ Tales imagining it would be so well received by the television industry that he would win an Emmy.
Given the go-ahead by Comcast, Mr Fay began work with co-workers Mike Fay (his brother) as videographer, editor Ron Karkut, and Melissa Leonard, public access studio coordinator. Liz Kennard supervised the project.
Directed to “make it appeal to children or youth,” Mr Fay had a Muppet-like golden retriever puppet, “Wags,” crafted by Jeremy Heyel of Bethel. Wags serves as the host of the documentary, periodically popping up throughout the video to point out facts or introduce speakers.
The recordings were done on site in Newtown and the area, with Maggie and Addie’s actual handlers. As Wags and a variety of schedulers, handlers, and Pastor Rob Morris of Christ the King narrate, interaction between the dogs and children, individuals, and with students of Suffolk University in Boston depicts the gentle efforts of the canine companions in soothing the humans they meet.
“We found nothing but genuine joy, love, and wanting to be with the dogs,” said Mr Fay, as they filmed the hours of video. He even sent a video team to film the dogs at Suffolk University, where they received honorary doctorates of healing for their visits to Boston following the Boston Marathon bombings, April 15, 2013.
Maggie, Addie and 68 other LCC comfort dogs are deployed nationwide, Mr Fay explained, wherever disaster, violence or sadness creates a need for the comfort they can offer. Trained from the time they are very young puppies, LCC comfort dogs are able to be transported anywhere in the nation, and are at home with any LCC trained handler. Visits can be arranged for individuals, as well as for small or large groups. Each dog has its own schedule and scheduler, handlers, and Facebook page, as well as a way to contact the dog by e-mail.
“When people see these dogs, wearing their vests, they know you understand,” Mr Fay said. “It’s a ministry, in a sense,” he said of the comfort dog program. “The dog is forward, but we’re there to have a gentle conversation or pray with them, if requested. It’s a way of saying someone is here for you. You’re not alone,” he said of the dogs’ visits.
Wags ‘n’ Tales first aired for Xfinity customers in New England as a local video on demand from Comcast in the fall of 2013. It is currently viewable at no cost on Vimeo; on YouTube (Wags ‘n’ Tales); or on Maggie’s Facebook page, (Facebook.com/MaggieComfortDog).
“I’ve been nominated [for an Emmy] twice before. I’m very blessed in my work,” Mr Fay said. Comcast entered ten projects this past year when the National Academy solicited entries. Four, including Wags ‘n’ Tales, were nominated.
“I was overjoyed. We were taking a story out of [Newtown] and of healing, and bringing it to a national level. For our small group to be recognized by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, I feel blessed,” he said.
Maggie and Addie are a part of the fabric of healing in the community, Mr Fay believes. Sharing their story and having it nationally recognized has been an honor.
“I think it was honored because it is a tight story. It certainly has subject matter with impact. The technical and creativity aspects, using Wags the puppet, made it stand out in the category,” Mr Fay said, “but it still had adult appeal.”
He is pleased that his efforts and those of the crew have been acknowledged. “To do ten minutes of program is days and days of recording, editing, and putting the elements together — the music, the graphics. As a producer it’s my job to see it through from conception to finish. There’s a lot,” he said, “that goes into the ten minutes.”
Inspired By Newtown
It is a work inspired by the many people of the Newtown/Sandy Hook community and beyond, he said, and by the memory of all of those who lost someone on 12/14 and at the Boston Marathon.
“That’s why it’s so powerful to me, and why this is the one of my three nominations that won the award,” he said.
“Nothing takes the place of all we’ve lost,” Mr Fay emphasized. “It’s an honor and a privilege. [This Emmy] is in memory of all we’ve lost and all that we continue to strive to do.”
Maggie and Addie make seven to ten visits each week, including twice weekly to Sandy Hook School, Mr Fay said. To contact Maggie, e-mail her at Maggie@K9Comfort.org, call 203-426-6300, or visit her Facebook page.
For more information on the LCC Comfort Dog Program, go to www.ctkLutheranNewtown.org.