Instances of Therapy Dogs Providing Comfort After Tragedies
By Jill Harness
One of the most remarkable things about the recent Boston bombings was how kind people were during the crisis—but gentle words and hugs aren’t always enough to comfort the victims of this kind of disaster. That’s why the folks of K9 Parish Comfort Dogs and other organizations have brought their canine friends to help those who could use some unconditional love right now.
You can read more about the project and the dogs involved, as well as see more adorable pictures of the pups providing their service, over at BuzzFeed.
But this certainly isn’t the first time dogs have helped disaster victims deal with their traumatic experiences. K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs also visited the young survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Two of the dogs even stayed behind with the kids at the school, although they both visited Boston with the Parish’s other dogs this week since Sandy Hook Elementary was on Spring Break.
Perhaps because many of the victims of the Newtown shooting were so young, the event attracted more therapy dogs than practically any other disaster. Therapy dogs were also present at the streetside memorial held for the shooting victims, which made the services easier for the children who knew the victims. In fact, during the service itself, attendees of all ages were given plush toy dogs to cuddle and squeeze during the emotional event.
Dogs were also brought in at the memorial for the Virginia Tech shooting in April of 2007. In this case, the dogs were provided with the help of Hope Animal Assisted Crisis Response, who was specifically requested by the Red Cross. Hope Animal Assisted Crisis Response was one of the many groups to provide therapy dogs to help survivors and emergency workers in the aftermath of 9/11.
Dogs also aided New York residents who were affected by the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) sent comfort dogs, like Ladle, to aid the preschoolers of St. Peter's Lutheran School, Brooklyn, N.Y.
While the deaths might not have all occurred at once, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars took the lives of thousands of soldiers. To help 500 children and teen survivors of these veterans deal with their grief, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors put together a 'Good Grief Camp' that, along with counseling and other services, provided therapy dogs to aid in the healing process.
While combat dogs may get more attention, the U.S. military also employs therapy dogs. Zeke here is a five year old labrador retriever who has a rank of Sergeant First Class for his services at the combat stress clinic on the Kandahar military base in southern Afghanistan. The government therapy dog program started in 2007 to help those serving in Iraq receive the psychological benefits that only animals can provide.
Therapy dogs can even help crime victims better cope with their trauma so they can testify more easily. That’s why Abby works right beside her owner Sandy Sylvester, a prosecutor at the Prince William County Courthouse in Virginia.
Eager to support these efforts? Well, if you’re in the Boston area and have a kind, well-behaved dog, you can always get him or her certified and bring your own pooch to comfort the survivors. But everyone else can help by donating to the K9 Parish Comfort Dog’s Boston travel expense fund or to HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response.