Canine comfort has a place on front lines of Florence relief effort
By: Lindsay Crossland
The Salvation Army has responded to every major disaster in the United States since the hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas, in 1900. For the first time in this long history of disaster response, The Salvation Army has partnered with Therapy Dogs International in relief efforts.
Therapy Dogs International (TDI) is a volunteer organization dedicated to helping handlers through the registration process to get therapy dogs to wherever they’re needed most. From nursing homes to hospitals, and now disaster relief sites like The Salvation Army’s response to Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, you can find them providing comfort and care.
If you followed Jazz, a Goldendoodle, around for a day, you may find him with his head in the lap of a little girl reading him a book while she waits on her mother to go through the government assistance application process. This process could sometimes take several hours due to the volume of need. “I couldn’t believe the magnitude of people impacted by Hurricane Florence,” said Debbie Willis, Jazz’s handler. “It does our hearts good to see our dogs making someone feel better, especially the children going through this.”
Wally, a Long-haired Labrador retriever, could be found sitting with a Salvation Army volunteer while she absently stroked his head as she processed a day spent driving out to rural areas to serve meals to hundreds of people who had lost so much.
“The therapy dogs add another level to our emotional and spiritual care efforts. It’s another connection we’re making with people that have just experienced trauma,” says Kevin Chinault, emotional and spiritual care officer for The Salvation Army in the Wilmington area. “Even when people won’t talk, they’ll connect. The therapy dogs are truly helping us provide the much-needed ministry of presence.”
Lindsay Crossland is the communications director for the Florida Division.