Therapy Dogs Comfort Boston Marathon Bombing & Disaster Victims
Published April 19, 2013
The unconditional loving way in which dogs react to humans have been helping the bombing survivors from the Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass. this week.
Five Golden Retrievers, part of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, based near Chicago, Ill., were deployed to help comfort victims and Bostonians earlier this week at the request of the First Lutheran Church of Boston.
The five dogs are part of a group of 67 Golden Retrievers trained as service dogs that help bring comfort to victims of tragedies such as the shootings at Sandy Hook. The group was formed with just a few dogs in 2008 following the shooting at Northern Illinois University.
Since that time, the group has traveled the country and expanded its program. “We never go anywhere we’re not invited,” Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Church Charities, told Petside.com. “We never take any money from the people we serve; we’re funded entirely through private donations.”
Although the group has responded to a number of tragedies, this is the first bombing they have encountered. “The reactions are the same as any other tragedy,” says Hetzner. “There is the fear and confusion.”
The group set up at the First Lutheran Church, where they saw about 400 people just on Wednesday night. “I can’t say how many people have come to see the dogs in total, but hundreds came on Wednesday and they just kept coming,” says Hetzner.
The group is also visiting hospital staff and victims of the blast at several local hospitals. “It’s relaxing — takes my mind off of what happened,” David Yepez, 15, told Today. Yepez is recovering from surgery for shrapnel in his leg at Tufts Medical Center. “It’s good to have my mind away from the [incident], the doctors. To have a moment of peace. [I haven’t] had many moments of peace.”
Dogs can’t talk back and they are incapable of judging someone who is in pain emotionally, says Hetzner.
Many studies have shown that dogs help lower stress and blood pressure.
Hetzner says the dogs for the program are bred by selected breeders, which he insists is necessary so the handlers know the background and temperament of the dogs. “We support rescue, we love animals, but for the type of work we do, we feel it is important to know the whole history of the dog,” says Hetzner.
At 6-8 weeks of age, the dogs begin 8-12 months of training as service animals and they also undergo more training as therapy dogs.
Two of the dogs currently in Boston were called from Sandy Hook Elementary, Hetzner says, because they were close and also because Sandy Hook is on spring break this week.
Those two dogs, which are sisters, will return to Sandy Hook next week to continue to help students, educators and parents cope. Hetzner says that they will remain through at least May and arrangements are being made with two local affiliated churches to make their stay there permanent.
The dogs will remain in Boston through at least Sunday and will stay longer if needed. Their next stop, Hetzner says, will likely be in Waco, Texas, to help the people cope with the fire and blast that leveled a fertilizer plant and killed several people.
What do you think of this program? Do you think that only specially bred dogs could do this work or do you believe that some rescues may be able to be trained?