Dogs to the Rescue

Four-legged bundles of comfort are now in Orlando, helping victims and families

by Carleen Wild | Updated 14 Jun 2016 at 12:48 PM

In times of crisis, people are often unsure of what they might do to help — they simply just want to be there for those in need.

Dogs are gentle, and they don’t take notes, so they’re wonderful to talk to.

But as friends, families, and strangers gather in Orlando and across the nation to show support for those killed and wounded in a terrorist attack on innocent people in a nightclub over the weekend, comfort dogs may be the ones called on to reach those struggling the most.

The first team of therapy dogs flew Monday from Chicago to Orlando. Seven other teams from around the country — all members of Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) and K-9 Comfort Dogs — have since joined them in Orlando.

The 12 dogs and 20 handlers have been asked to help reach out to victims, their families, and friends, along with rescue workers.

“The plan this week is to go spend time with the victims that are still in the hospital and the hospital emergency staff,” said Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Church Charities. “We’ll also see first responders, police, and work with the fire department.”

The comfort dogs will also visit with employees of the club where the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 took place — and also meet with their families, and friends, Hetzner told LifeZette.

The dogs will be on the go for at least the next week — the schedule for this “pack” is packed. They do take breaks, but this is a heavy, emotional, and important job.

Typically when the dogs are present, people’s heart rates go down, they relax, and they become more comfortable sharing what’s on their mind — which is key for anyone trying to recover from a traumatic experience.

“Dogs are great listeners, they’re confidential, they’re gentle, and they don’t take notes so they’re wonderful to talk to. And that process, talking about what you’re feeling, what you’ve gone through, it is a critical component to healing,” said Hetzner.

Right away, he added, you can see people’s facial expressions change. The dogs LCC uses are all golden retrievers, and they’re trained to do what they do — in this case, it’s simply to be there for those who could use a friend.

"This community is very hurt over what has happened. They feel targeted. We'll be there through Monday at the very least and then assess what we might still need to do. While teams from seven other states are here with us — at the end of the week we'll determine if more dogs are needed."

In the meantime, Hetzner said it's an honor to be there. The LCC teams are asking for support in the form of prayer, so that they may even begin to help these individuals and the entire community of Orlando heal.

He adds that the reaction on people's faces when the dogs are present helps him realize time and again that the work they do really does make a difference.

"When you pet the dogs, they pick up the emotions of people petting them, and it's the same way when you're talking to people and hearing their stories — you feel for them," Hetzner told ABC7 in Chicago.

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