Jeb's DogBlog - Canine Comfort

Chapter 5

December 20, 2012

You know, one of the problems with being a dog in a newsroom is that I'm empathetic and pick up on lots of emotions. Well, as you might imagine, this has been a very difficult week following the school shooting in Newtown.  Most of my colleagues have kids and they feel the pain and sorrow of the parents in Newtown.  Anyone who tells you news people are cold and unfeeling and cynical have NOT met my coworkers.

Because we dogs are so empathic, we make good counselors when people are hurting. I've been doing my best to cheer up my newsroom friends and I was not surprised to see that a random herd of Golden Retrievers was helping the folks of Newtown. Go, Goldens!

Oh, I stand corrected. Marianne says these are special dogs and handlers from the K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs of Lutheran Church Charities. You can read more about these furry helpers at http://www.tinyurl.com/c3d3qd They have been featured in a bunch of news stories, which you can see here: http://tinyurl.com/ca6nvpo. I still say, Go Goldens!

It seems there are other organizations that provide crisis and disaster response dogs. My friend Vicki D'Amico, a Canine Companions puppy raiser in Georgia, sent out an email to the Canine Companions puppy raiser community.

Vicky wrote "While they are all certified therapy dogs, these K9 teams go through extensive training in disaster, emergency, and crisis response and receive any extra certification to do this type of work.  They are usually members of their local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and State Emergency Management organization and FEMA.  The handlers may or may not be psychologists, but have undergone extensive and on-going training by these emergency organizations in disaster psychology (but are not intended to replace professional psychologists).   The groups do not self-deploy but must be invited in by an emergency response agency such as Red Cross or FEMA."

Fascinating, no? Well, I thought so, and I wanted more information, especially when she said that she and her dog Gordon are a K-9 team with HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response (http://www.hopeaacr.org). Gordon is a 12-year old Canine Companions Change of Career Dog, wouldn't you know.

JEB:  How did you and Gordon get into this type of work? 

VICKY:  During Hurricane Katrina, Atlanta was the first city to receive the evacuees from New Orleans and the first Red Cross shelter was just a few miles from my house.  I felt an overwhelming need to do something, to help out, so I just took my therapy dog (Gordon) down to the shelter to offer my assistance. I did not know at the time this was not the protocol and I needed to be invited by the Red Cross. However we were welcomed with open arms and I was amazed at how much they wanted and needed us there.  I meant to only spend an hour visiting and before I knew it, we’d been there for FOUR hours. 

JEB:  Wow. What was that like?

VICKY: We were literally swarmed when we got into the building and so many people just needed to share their stories; as they hugged Gordon they released their tears of sorrow and grief about having to leave their animals behind and not knowing if they’d ever see them again.  We also played with the small children who were stuck in the shelter and welcomed the distraction and affection of a dog.  After that experience I decided I wanted to get more involved with disaster and crisis work with my dog and after much research found HOPE AACR. 

JEB: Did you have to go through a lot of training? 

VICKY:  The training for HOPE AACR is extensive and on-going. The handler and canine have to pass a series of tests including a temperament test and a role playing scenario of a disaster call-out at a Red Cross shelter.  After passing these tests the handlers and dogs go through a three-day training program with more role playing scenarios and emergency/disaster psychology training. 

JEB: Jeez, that sounds like a lot of work.

VICKY:  Yes, and that's not all. We are required to attend continuing education courses through local and/or national emergency management organizations each year to keep up our skills!

JEB: How often do you and Gordon do this kind of work?

VICKY:  Well, it's not specific; it's based on the need after a disaster or emergency.  If we do have a call-out we are usually on site for two to three days. After that it becomes too stressful for the handlers and dogs. 

JEB:  I can only imagine. Have you been called out recently?

VICKY:  Yes, our Northeast Region teams have been assisting and visiting with residents in New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.  In September 2011 Gordon and I attended a 9/11 10th anniversary memorial service in Kennesaw, Georgia where we provided comfort and support to many who lost loved ones at the World Trade Centers.

Bravo! I say to Vicky and Gordon. Maybe if this CCI gig doesn't work out for me I could sign on as a Comfort Canine. Hmmmm.

Chow for now (and Happy Holidays!)

JEB!