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Kristin Song hugs Oliver, the 100th dog fostered at the Song family home since 2013. Fostering 100 dogs was a goal Song set with her son, Ethan, who helped her foster 95 dogs until he lost his life in January. His legacy of kindness and compassion and love of animals continues, along with advocacy and intiatives to keep kids safe from guns and threats, through the Ethan Miller Song Fund established by Kristin and Mike Song. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Kristin Song shares a milestone reached in honor of her son, Ethan. )
Ethan Song loved animals and had the innate ability to calm and foster dogs and make them feel safe and happy, says his mom, Kristin Song. (Photo courtesy of Mike Song )
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Kristin Song’s mom had deep love of animals that she passed on to her daughter. When Kristin’s mother passed away in 2013, she and her youngest son, Ethan, embarked on a compassionate mission to “clear a shelter” in her honor by fostering 100 dogs at their Guilford home.
This month, with an Australian shepherd puppy she named Oliver, Kristin reached their goal. She recalls the day she and Ethan, then 10 years old, “hatched a plan” to foster 100 dogs. It was 2013, and the Songs had just moved downtown into their new home.
“We were just chit-chatting in the garage, and just came up with the number 100,” says Kristin. “We had no idea how many dogs were in shelters, but we thought if we could clear a shelter in a couple of years, we would honor my mother. So Ethan and I did 95 together. He died when we had the 95th.”
On Jan. 31, 2018, 15-year-old Ethan Song lost his life due to a gunshot from an unsecured gun in a friend’s home. The tragic death happened on a day like any other in the lives of the Song family, which also includes Ethan’s brother Evan, sister Emily, and dad, Mike. Kristin says she could have never imagined Ethan would not return when he left their home that day.
“In fact, about an hour before he died, he was on the ground and the puppy was all over him; and he was laughing and the sun was coming through and dappling over them,” says Kristin. “And I was kind of watching and thinking I was so blessed to have a child that really understood kindness and gentleness and compassion. It was so peaceful. I remember just sitting there and watching him, and saying this kid is going to be awesome. He’s smart, he’s compassionate, he’s sweet.”
The Legacy of Kindness
Since the loss of their child, Kristin and Mike have mobilized to keep other children safe and continue Ethan’s legacy of kindness and caring, through the efforts of Ethan Miller Song Fund at the Guilford Foundation. The fund promotes the rescue and welfare of animals, bettering the lives of children, and gun safety education and advocacy. The Song’s fast-moving and ground-breaking efforts now include the upcoming adoption of the Sandy Hook curriculum’s “Say Something Anonymous App” program at Guilford High School in the fall.
Next, Kristin wants to coordinate with local authorities and other foundation groups and non-profit organizations to implement a one-day gun “buy back” effort, which she hopes to combine with a gun safety-lock distribution/installation program. It’s just one of dozens of ways that this loving and strong mom is working through the impossible task of going on without a child who she loved and protected.
“What’s really ironic is, if you knew me well, you would know I was a big safety person. That was my thing with everything,” Kristin says. “We skied every week; and I would travel with a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector. If we were near water, my kids were in life jackets, no matter what. It was just stuff that I did because I could just see two steps ahead; and never wanted to be in that position.”
“It’s just bizarre that it ended up this way,” she continues. “We both worked from home. I was a stay-at-home mom for so many years. Our children really don’t go to other places; they’re usually at our house. We were all-in parents. So it’s hard. Your job is to protect your children; and when children came to my home, they were safe. We took them in, we were responsible, we kept them safe. And I guess we expected that in any household our children would be in —that people would be mindful of them and keep them safe.”
If she could send a message to every person with a gun in their home, it would be to secure it, lock it up, keep it safe and away from kids.
“The gun safety issue is very prominent in our lives now,” says Kristin. “We’re working with Rosa DeLauro and Richard Blumenthal and all of our congresspeople. We’re working with Sandy Hook. Gun safety doesn’t mean taking away your guns. If you have a pool, you put a fence around it. If you drive a car, you don’t let your 13-year-old drive a car. There are certain things you do as a parent to protect your children from themselves. Guns are deadly and you have to lock them up. There’s just no option.”
Ethan’s father, Mike, shares Kristin’s dedication to sharing the message of gun safety.
“We feel like we’re just getting started,” adds Mike. “If more people are looking at how to keep their kids safe; more people will jump on board each year. I think we probably have already saved lives; just from people saying, ‘Ok, this is what can happen.’ I actually know this; because people have told us, ‘We had a gun under the bed that was loaded.’ ‘We had a gun just in a cabinet.’ So they’re securing them. They’re starting to put them in safes, and use gun locks, which are all smart things to do.”
Numbers Tell a Tragic Story
Kristin can cite statistics that she wishes everyone would know. Information gathered through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Center for Injury Prevention and Control show 1.7 million children live with unlocked, loaded guns. That means a total of one out of three homes with kids have guns. In 2015, 2,824 children (age 0 to 19 years) died by gunshot and an additional 13,723 were injured. Those people that die from accidental shooting were more than three times as likely to have had a firearm in their home. Among children, the majority (89%) of unintentional shooting deaths occur in the home. Most of these deaths occur when children are playing with a loaded gun in their parent’s absence. Suicide rates are also much higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership.
She also wants people to recognize that it is a crime to have an unsecured gun in your home in Connecticut.
“I think what we need to do is get the message out there that it is a crime...your job is to protect your children from themselves. You have to take that job seriously. If you’re going to own a gun you have to secure it,” she says.
Section 29-37i of Connecticut State Statutes includes a misdemeanor for improper gun storage, which reads, “No person shall store or keep any loaded firearm on any premises under his control if he knows or reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the parent or guardian of the minor unless such person (1) keeps the firearm in a securely locked box or other container or in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure or (2) carries the firearm on his person or within such close proximity thereto that he can readily retrieve and use it as if he carried it on his person. For the purposes of this section, “minor” means any person under the age of sixteen years.” A third statute on firearms storage (Section 52-571g) is similar to a felony and carries a civil court conviction for the gun owner if the misdemeanor statute is violated, and a person under 16 obtains the firearm and causes injury or death. In April, the Song’s filed a wrongful death suit against the owner of the gun which took Ethan’s life.
Mike notes the work the Ethan Miller Song Fund is undertaking to keep kids safe in homes with guns is not being done to provoke a reaction “for or against” gun ownership.
“People are very reactive, but a lot of the gun owners we’ve talked to, they’ll say, ‘Yes, we’re pro-gun; but everybody should secure their gun so their kids can’t play with them,’” says Mike. “So there is a big percentage of people with guns who, I think, might not understand some aspects of what people want; but know they really don’t want to see their child get hurt by a gun. They want to keep their kids safe, and we want to keep their kids safe, too. And if other kids are going and visiting their family, they’ll want to definitely do that, too. It ties into so many other issues. If guns aren’t secure, and you have an upset neighbor or kid who can walk in and just grab that gun, it’s how some of these guns have gotten into schools. We think there’s so many benefits of focusing on this issue.”
The Ethan Miller Song Fund has already made so many great strides, with perhaps the most visible impact taking place June 9 during the first annual #SongStrong5K in Guilford. Race day also included exhibits and efforts highlighting gun safety and advocacy, opioid abuse, the dangers of texting and driving, Sandy Hook’s Say Something Anonymous App, and visiting therapy animals, many of them rescues.
“We just got a panoramic picture framed from it,” says Mike. “It’s mind-blowing. There’s a sea of people; 1,000 people fired up and ready to go, and everyone ready to help in their own way. All of that, I think, came from Kris and her desire to make something positive come from what happened.”
Cuddling Oliver, Kristin says seeing the support filling the 5K was “bittersweet.”
“I think for me, it’s joyful that the town has rallied; but then you realize what they’re rallying for, and it’s really hard for me. It’s just a mother’s love for their child.”
One Hundred Dogs to Honor Ethan
Following the loss of Ethan, Kristin carried on working toward their milestone of fostering 100 dogs.
“I was determined, after he died, to get to 100; because that was a commitment I made to him and that we made to each other,” she says.
From dumped litters to abandoned animals, the dogs have all made their way into the Song’s home from Arkansas, via rescue group Little Pink Shelter, founded by Kristin’s friend Holly Chasen. Kristin smiles when she thinks of how many are now in forever homes right here in Guilford. Many got their start in a happy life thanks Ethan’s kindness and compassion.
“He just got a lot of joy out it. He really was a dog whisperer,” says Kristin. “He just had that ability to calm them down and to bring them out of their shells. My mother had the same knack. It was just innate to him; he didn’t have to be taught.”
As she fostered pups 96 through 100 on her own, Kristin experienced some very poignant moments which filled her heart.
“After Ethan died, my 97th foster was named Ethan in his honor. So Ethan came to my home,” she says.
Ethan was destined for a very special adoption.
“The people who came to adopt him were in my driveway, and they were all excited about Ethan. And the mom said to me, ‘I just want to let you know, my son Oliver died the same way, three years ago in January.’” Kristin shares. “So I said to her, in honor of your son, my 100th foster is going to be named after your child, Oliver. It was bizarre. Holly had been telling her they had named Ethan after my son; and her son died because of the same exact thing.”
For Kristin, meeting another mom who lost a child due to an unsecured gun was also a reminder of just how many children are at risk; and how much more she feels she can do to help keep them safe. She is making progress with efforts like implementing the Sandy Hook curriculum and Say Something Anonymous App at GHS.
“It’s something my friend Gretchen and I brought to [Guilford public schools’ chief] Dr. Freeman, because after Ethan died; we were all kind of frantic about trying to put a game plan together so he didn’t die in vain. And really, the only way that I can kind of get up and function is if I think I’m moving the ball forward.”
Kristin feels the free program and training is going to be a “game changer” at GHS. She’s also excited to have met with Branford Public Schools to initially discuss the idea and will soon be meeting with West Hartford Public Schools, as well.
“It’s going to teach the kids, it’s going to teach the community, it’s going to teach the teachers. And most of all, the children will have an opportunity, if they see something, to anonymously report it and it will get to the correct authorities without having them get involved,” says Kristin.
“I think there are a lot of kids who are aware of statistics showing there are people, before a school shooting or before they commit suicide, that have actually told other people [their intent], and those kids just don’t really know what to do with it. They can act on it anonymously, with an app on their phone. Colorado has been doing [an anonymous program] for 20 years; and they can show you statistics on all of the suicides and school shootings they’ve thwarted, and all the kids that are playing with guns. It makes a difference, and if you can save one kid’s life, it’s worth it.”
For more information on the Ethan Miller Song Foundation and links to programs to keep kids safe, visit www.songstrong.org
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