Maryland VOAD Emotional and Spiritual Care

It is said that during a disaster is not a good place to be exchanging business cards. Maryland VOAD is a great way to build relationships amongst those involved in disaster work. From first responders, through to long term recovery.

HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, does not self-deploy. They believe that if you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.

If pet therapy work is predictable, and repetitive, crisis response work is non-predictable, and non-repetitive. From floods, to school suicides, to building collapses, etc.

If you want to get involved in this type of human/dog community service, and/or if your organization can offer beneficial disaster emotional support, please contact Burton Goldstein, Chair of Maryland VOAD Emotional and Spiritual Care Task Force.

The Power of Therapy Dogs When Disaster Strikes

The Story of HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response

The notion that dogs can ease human emotional suffering is not new. Anyone who’s cried in the presence of a dog knows that. A 4-pound Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky is credited with being the first therapy dog, cheering wounded soldiers in hospitals on the islands around New Guinea during World War II.

Dog trainer Cindy Ehlers first recognized the power of therapy dogs after the Thurston High School shooting, in Springfield, Oregon on May 21, 1998. She accompanied one of the first therapy dogs to work with the Red Cross in a disaster and was one of the first to be certified for crisis response.

After that experience, Ehlers got a Keeshond puppy she named Tikva, and trained her for crisis-response work. She also started an organization that is today the HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, in Eugene, Oregon.

On 9/11, Ehlers and Tikva traveled to New York. Dealing with such enormous waves of grief, fear, and confusion goes way beyond what is required of a therapy dog who visits hospitals and nursing homes. Ehlers says she saw some become too stressed to work — though they tried, not all dogs were able to handle the environment.

Most teams stayed at the Family Assistance Centers, helping the relatives of the dead and missing. Red Cross mental-health experts saw that workers were not talking to the human therapists, and thought maybe they would talk to the dogs. Tikva, because of her crisis-relief training, became one of the few dogs who worked at Ground Zero helping the responders. Her preparation for working in this environment, as well as her cute looks, rock-solid temperament, and unusual breed, made her ideal for taking minds off the horror, if just for a few moments.

Ehlers says that that was where these dogs earned the nickname that they are known by now: “comfort dogs.” “A firefighter called up V-Mat [Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams] after we left and said, ‘Where are those comfort dogs? They’re the only thing that helps me get through the day.’”

See more of Cindy and Tikva on YouTube. (Go to 8:29 minutes of the video.)

(Photo: Communications Coordinator Thea Becton poses with Bear of HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response.)