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Responding to a Disaster

by Char Nash
reprinted from NewfTide 1Q 2009

It has been an honor and privilege to work as an Animal Assisted Crisis Response Team with my Newfoundlands, Emma, TDInc, CGC, AACRT and Lily, TDInc, CGC, AACRT. Preparing for certification is intense and includes numerous readings and courses, followed by 40 hours of training. Emma and I were certified as a Crisis Response Team in June 2005, and Lily was certified in October 2007.

In October 2005, Emma and I were sent to Texas, to be with families and volunteers affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. During training, we had gone through mock disasters and security problems at the airport, but when our first real deployment came, it was unbelievable. We flew into Dallas, and although this was Emma’s first flight, she came through with flying colors. Emma stood proudly while going through security, and I was more nervous than she. Once on the plane, Emma slept the entire trip and even started to snore. People commented that they never knew there was a dog on board.

Newfoundland Therapy Dog

As a Crisis Response dog, Lily was trained to work with emergency personnel in disaster situations.

Our work in Texas was an awesome experience. Emma and I went to the shelters that had been set up for families As a Crisis Response dog, Lily was trained to work with emergency personnel in disaster situations whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the storms. People could talk to her, pet her, and give her lots of hugs. Emma loved seeing the children, who would rap their arms around her and give her a hug. For a brief period, she took their pain away, put smiles on their faces, and gave them hope. One of the volunteers observed that this was the first time she had seen these children smile. I had worked with Emma for three years as a therapy dog in other venues, but this was totally different to me. It was amazing to see the difference in Emma when she wore her AACR “vest.”

In 2008, we spent three days at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, an experience altogether different than Texas. We were one of nine AACR teams at the school following a random shooting that resulted in numerous deaths and injuries. Pain permeated the campus. When we wandered by one of the memorials, I was consumed by the sadness of the situation. A student stood near me, and Emma nudged her leg. The girl knelt down, whispered in her ear, and, with tears rolling down her face, gave her a hug. I said nothing and let Emma do her job. The girl looked at me and said, “Thank you for being here.”

This was the first of many tearful thanks we heard during our stay on campus. We heard it at memorial services and while visiting the dorm rooms and classrooms. We met with students who had been in the classroom where the shooting began. The students stroked Emma’s head as they told their stories; I listened and let Emma do her work. I knew their tears of grief were part of their healing.

Newfoundland Therapy Dog

Emma and Susan see eye to eye on many things, including the value of therapy visits.

In June, we went to Parkersburg, Iowa, following a tornado. As I drove down the street to find the Red Cross/FEMA Resource Center, I was in awe at the destruction this storm had caused in a matter of seconds. At the center, a steady stream of families and volunteers came for food, supplies, and to rest. Emma and two other AACR teammates were eager to work, and the children were especially attracted to Emma, the largest dog there. We met some students in front of the damaged high school. They sat as close as possible to the dogs and drew comfort from them. We worked with the Salvation Army, the school counselors, and FEMA during those three days and met some wonderful people. All were amazed at what these animals could do to help rebuild a damaged town and strengthen the community.

In our spare time, Emma works as a volunteer at the local hospice and hospital and reads with children at a local elementary school. Three-year-old Lily is also a Therapy Dog. She and Emma have worked several times at a school where its students and families experienced multiple deaths over a short period of time. They sought out those who were obviously having a hard time and sat next to them, seeming to say, “I am here for you.”

My two Newfies are totally different in their personalities, but it is a joy to watch them work. I am proud to be a part of their lives. Once a working vest is placed on my dogs, they sense the need to help others and are drawn to persons who really need a little extra love.

In June 2009, Emma, Lily, and I will be hosting an AACR training in Michigan. Anyone interested in attending can find the details on the Animal Assisted Crisis Response website.

Newfoundland Therapy Dog

Jesus obviously enjoys a visit from Emma. Emma visits schools in addition to working at disaster scenes.

reprinted from 1Q NewfTide 2009 pp 11- 21

 

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