California Task Force 1, at the World Trade Center.

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 four-legged therapists earned the sobriquet that they are known by now. “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.’ ” Growing Need For Therapy Dogs A new era for therapy dogs opened on 9/11, says Ursula Kempe, president of Therapy Dogs International, which she co-founded in the mid-1970s. TDI sent 100 teams to New York, where they worked at the Family Assistance Center on Pier 94 and 50 at the Pentagon. They spent about four weeks there. Kempe says that most of the dogs rose to the challenge, but some could not handle it. “While this was still going on, I called a meeting at TDI and asked everyone who was involved if they wanted to come. We all realized—really there was absolutely no dissention—we are not prepared for that, as therapy-dog handlers.” TDI tightened its criteria, requiring additional preparation for the human handlers and special certification for dogs participating in disaster relief. Since then, TDI teams have helped people cope with all kinds of disasters, from Hurricane Katrina to mass shootings to acts of terrorism. Kempe says the way the world views working dogs has come a long way, but improvements are still needed. For example, only service dogs can travel by plane in the cabin with their owners. Kempe is trying to persuade airlines to allow disaster-relief comfort dogs to do the same. This one change, she says, would bring many more dogs to places where they are needed. Handlers are reluctant to transport their canine partners in baggage. The Future of Working Dogs Otto believes that the need for dogs trained for all kinds of serious work is going to soar in the future, and more funding, facilities, and people willing to become handlers are desperately needed. Already, given all that they do, she says, “there is a shortage of dogs and funds to support them as well as the research to keep them healthy and performing optimally.” The experts also say that there is no way to predict what the future needs will be and how dogs will contribute to keeping us safe and helping people recover from a horror like the events of 15 years ago.



search teams, she estimated, r e s p o n d e d . Only about 100 were prepared for a disaster of monstrous proportions in a major city. Many were wilderness search and

rescue dogs, experts at finding people missing in the woods. They could not cope with the enormous mound of twisted metal, glass, and smoldering rubble and the urban noises. Tosch says that some television coverage listed NSDF’s phone number. Donations started to pour in. “We had this influx of funding right after the World Trade Center,” Tosch says. The support and publicity helped make Melville’s 20-year dream— the National Training Center, slated to open on September 24—a reality. It’s designed to give canine candidates the opportunity to practice on a variety of simulated disaster sites. Soothing Souls The notion that dogs have the power to ease human emotional suffering is not new. Anyone who’s cried in the presence of a canine companion knows that. Smoky, a 4-pound Yorkshire Terrier, 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 May 21, 1998, Thurston High School shooting, in Springfield, Oregon. She accompanied one of the first therapy dogs to work with the Red Cross in a disaster and 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. teams stayed at the Family Assistance Centers, helping the relatives of the dead and Most

“People are realizing all of the different ways we can use these K-9s,” Tosch says. “We’re only limited by our imagination.”


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