Therapy Dogs Help Crash Victims

If you've ever thought that your dog would make a great therapy dog, but never pursued it, this story will make you want to go...

Horst Hoefinger  |  Feb 23rd 2009


If you’ve ever thought that your dog would make a great therapy dog, but never pursued it, this story will make you want to go sign-up for training. It shows what an amazing difference a therapy dog can make for a person who is sick, elderly, or as in this case, gone through a horrible tragedy.

The recent plane crash in Buffalo, NY has touched so many lives, changed so many families. To help the grieving relatives special four-legged therapists were brought to several sites, in hopes of providing some comfort.

Merlot, a Black Labrador, was brought to a local hotel to help a woman with the loss of a relative. The dog, being a trained therapist, waited until the woman was ready to engage.

“It was immediate. She reached over and petted the dog and hugged it,” said Tara Hughes, the lead Red Cross mental health volunteer at the Family Assistance Center for relatives of the deceased crash victims.

Hughes had previously seen the canine therapy dogs in action at other far less tragic settings, but never before like this.

“To know this woman was truly grieving and sense what she needed, my first thought was emotional support doesn’t have to come from a person and this support for that woman was far beyond anything another person could do for her,” Hughes said.

In order to become a therapy dog a basic obedience class certification is required and then the dogs, and their owners, must pass a stringent test by the therapy organization. It is imperative to know how the dogs will react in different situations and scenarios.

But the beauty of the dogs, unlike human mental health professionals, is that these four-legged therapists do not require those they care for to utter a single word.

What a great way to give back to the community, sharing the love of your dog with those most in need. You can find out more about therapy dog programs in your community by searching online. Here is one site that gives a state-by-state list.

* Pic courtesy Derek Gee/Buffalo News