Service Dogs Provide Comfort to First Responders in El Paso

Clear the Shelters

When a gunman opened fire inside an El Paso Walmart, killing 22 people and wounding dozens more, scores of first responders stepped up to help the victims.

Their work is taxing, both physically and mentally. To help the paramedics, firefighters, nurses and doctors cope with the incredible stress, trauma and grief in the aftermath of the tragic event, a San Antonio-based health care group deployed a special team of four-legged caregivers.

Methodist Healthcare Systems sent their Emergency Services Facility dog team to El Paso to provide “unconditional love and support” to the heroes who served the community in the wake of the tragic events. Chanel, Lady and Rudy flew to El Paso Sunday and spent the week visiting first responder stations and hospitals throughout the city.

“The response has been great,” said Frank Trifilio, an EMS relations manager and Lady’s dog handler. “As we go to these dispatch centers, where first responders are operating on site, the reaction is overwhelming. Lots of smiles, lots of bright eyes.”

At the Del Sol Medical Center, where 11 of the wounded were treated, including two victims that later died at the hospital, the dogs provided much needed relief.   

“Anything that we can do to just to give them a small break,” said EMS relations manager and Chanel’s handler Brandon Miller. “It’s really cool to see even just a nurse who takes a moment to sit down, pet the dog, get up, give that sigh of relief and move to the next one.”

Miller notes that first responders, doctors and nurses typically move from one medical emergency to another, and the repeated exposure coupled with demanding schedules can result in emotional trauma.

“They have 10 feet to walk out that door and walk in to the next [patient’s] room and make sure that person knows they’re the most important person to that nurse, to that doctor or to that tech at that time,” Miller said. “It takes a ton of energy.”

According to Miller, the rate of suicide among first responders — firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement — has increased in recent years from one every seven days to one a day. He said in emergency rooms across the country there’s a big demand for staff to be able to deal with stress and trauma, and he believes the dogs are able to provide that source of comfort.

“There’s a real stigma around [suicide] and we hope to use these dogs to talk about the issue and help get them through tough situations,” Miller added. 

The dogs are rescues from animal shelters and trained by Service Dogs Inc., a non-profit organization that provides service dogs free of charge for people with disabilities, veterans and facility dogs for courthouses and first responders. 

Chanel, an almost 2-year-old yellow Lab/Golden Retriever mix, was the first dog to join Methodist Healthcare System’s Emergency Services Facility dog team, which launched in May of this year. Rudy and Lady, both 2-year-old yellow Labs, joined the team last month. 

“The dogs are trained to seek out people in need and can identify them in a crowd,” said Miller, adding that these dogs “can reach places in the heart no human can.”

Rudy, Lady and Chanel are able to provide staffers with heartwarming interactions so that they can, in turn, continue providing care for those injured who are still hospitalized. 

The dogs are expected to fly back to San Antonio Friday.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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COMMON ITEMS YOU CAN DONATE



 
  • Towels and blankets - Shelters are often cold and animals like to have a blanket to curl up on. Towels are a big help to dry animals off after being bathed or if they come in wet. Towels can also be used to line the bottoms of cages. The towels or blankets don't have to be brand new or in perfect condition. The animals won't mind, as long as they're usable.
  • Canned and Dry Food for Cats and Dogs-Healthy - Healthy pet options for nourishment
  • Kitty litter and cat boxes - Cats go to the bathroom- a lot. Shelters are constantly using bag after bag of litter. Their supply runs out fast.
  • Puppy or kitten formula and nursing bottles - Sometimes there are situations where a young puppy or kitten who is not weaned gets separated from their mother. In these situations they need puppy or kitten formula to survive.
  • Old newspaper - When you're done with your newspapers you usually just throw them away or recycle them, right? You could help animals at no cost to you if you just save up your old newspapers. Newspapers are used in the bottoms of cages. They get soiled quickly, so they're in constant demand.
  • Collars, harnesses, and leashes - Dogs who are taken out on walks need a leash and collar or harness. The shelter loses some because adopted dogs often go home with their leash or harness.
  • Grooming supplies - Grooming supplies can include shampoo, brushes, combs, haircutting scissors, etc. Dogs and cats often come in dirty or end up getting dirty. Grooming supplies can keep them fresh, clean, and adoptable.
  • Toys - You would get bored if you had to lay in a crate alone all day, wouldn't you? Animals in shelters get bored, too. It keeps the animals from being so lonely and bored and allows them to get exercise. You could go out and buy new toys, or you could donate toys your pets or children may have not gotten much use out of. It's as simple as that.
  • Crates and carriers - Animals need to be transported somehow, and the cost of multiple crates and carriers can add up quickly. You can donate ones you stopped using that are still in good condition or you could go buy one for a decent price. This helps the shelter tremendously.
  • Paper towels and cleaning supplies - There are a lot of situations that get messy, so paper towels are a big help.
  • Hand wash and hand sanitizer - People who work at shelters need to keep their hands clean for their and the animals' health.
  • Laundry detergent, fabric softener, and bleach - Towels and blankets get soiled often so the washing machines are being used a lot
  • Dog and cat beds - this can offer the animals a soft place to lay instead of a kennel or cage floor.
  • Heating pads - Many animals come in cold or are young and need warmth. Heating pads can replace a mother's warmth.
  • Copy paper and pens, pencils, post-it notes and staples - You can't forget about all the paperwork that has to be done. Donating these items makes it so the shelter doesn't have to buy them on their own.
  • Garbage bags, mops, brooms, and sponges - The shelter uses these every day and clean up supplies can get expensive.
  • Food bowls - As new animals come in, the shelter needs new places to put food. Having an adequate supply could mean life or death for an animal in a shelter.
  • Rubber and latex gloves - A lot of messy stuff happens and gloves are necessary to lessen the spread of germs.
  • Plastic shopping bags - Plastic bags can be used to clean up dog mess and to store things in.