When a deranged sniper poured hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, first responders immediately swung into action. A SWAT team silenced the gunman while police, paramedics, and concertgoers themselves did all they could to save lives. At the hospitals, doctors and nurses repaired many, though unfortunately not all, physical wounds. But what about the psychological fallout from a violent tragedy? Victims and their loved ones are the most obviously affected, but police and medical personnel can also be traumatized.
This brings us to the “second responders” — in this case, a corps of golden retrievers. These aren’t just any dogs; they’re highly-trained therapy animals, known as “comfort dogs.” The dogs live in various parts of the country but are trained under a Lutheran Church Charities outreach program based in Illinois. The dogs have to be extremely calm: no barking, pawing, or licking. A comfort dog’s demeanor needs to say, “Hug me. Talk to me. Go ahead and cry.” Knowing that the dogs will never betray their confidences, people can confess their worst thoughts and fears. This is important: once people are able to talk about what they went through, the healing process can get underway. As Tim Hetzner, who founded the program, describes it, “The great thing about dogs, they’re unconditional, confidential and safe. Dogs have an incredible sense of when somebody is hurting. They’ll just come and lay themselves into somebody’s lap.”
At Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, the four-legged “second responders” have been doing a lot of good both for people injured in the massacre and also for the hospital staff who have been caring for them. Caregivers are expected to keep their emotions bottled-up, but underneath their professional exteriors, they have emotional and psychological needs, too. According to Mary Lacyk, a nurse at the hospital, “It was almost like the grief just dissipated as they touched these animals.”
We’ve posted a video about these remarkable second responders and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the Facebook comments. Please be sure to like and share.