Kansas City, Kansas Therapy Dogs Help Omaha Victims Heal Emotionally After Mall Shootings

 |  Dec 21st 2007  |   0 Contributions


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Thanks to the Kansas City Star for this article.

Johnson County crisis dogs help workers return to Omaha mall
By SARAH BENSON
The Kansas City Star

It was just three days after the deadly shooting that ended with nine dead at Westroads Mall in Omaha.

The windows and doors of the Von Maur department store were blocked out with black paper. Mourners pasted bright white snowflakes against the inky coverings to honor those lost.


Julie Yoder traveled from her Johnson County home with her German Shepherd, Mackenzie, to be at the mall when the employees came back to work.

Yoder and her dog are trained in crisis therapy, so the Red Cross called them after the shootings and asked Yoder to help mourners and employees cope when they filed back into the mall to work and shop through the holidays.

Yoder and Mackenzie escorted employees to their posts in the early morning, then milled about the atrium near Von Maur. Thats when Yoder noticed a young man, probably in his twenties, standing near the blacked-out store. Yoder could tell he was in pain.

I just sensed the man needed to be private in his grief. I asked him if he wanted to give my dog a hug. It seemed like that was what he needed," Yoder says.

Without a word, the man put his head down and walked over to Mackenzie. He petted her for a few seconds, then buried his face in the thick, scruffy nape of her neck and began to cry.

Time sort of stands still in those interactions," Yoder says. Yoder and her friend, Amy Wurst, who also went to Omaha on Dec. 8, are members of Noahs Canine Crisis Response, a local group of owners and dogs trained in crisis therapy.

Yoder and Wurst who works with a Collie named Cabernet have been certified in crisis work since 2005. They went to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and to Greensburg, Kan., after a massive tornado flattened the small town.

But both say theyve never experienced anything like Omaha. The emotions there were much more raw," Yoder says.

It was very scary for those guys to come back," Wurst says of the mall employees.

She remembers one woman who stood in the doorway for 15 minutes before she could gather the strength to walk in.

She met another woman who said she had been an employee at Von Maur for 10 years. The day of the shooting was her day off. Some of her friends were killed. Wurst said the woman came up to Cabernet crying. She spent about 30 minutes talking and petting the dog, then told the two this really helped me."

Theres something about dogs that nurtures the soul, Wurst says.

Theres a physical and chemical reaction to the act of petting a dog. It helps reduce anxiety, pain, lowers blood pressure," she said.

Not just any dog can be a therapy dog. The animals have to be calm, sensitive, extremely obedient and tolerant of loud noises or high emotions. They go through intense training for about a week to get certified, and then go through periodic training after that.

My dog led me to do it," Yoder says. I did this because its what she needs to do."

Wurst says Cabernet knows how to read people.

She tends to seek out people who are hurting inside. Its really interesting to watch her," Wurst says.

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