The last year has been an often grim but needed reminder of the importance of first responders.
And just as it seemed the pandemic was receding, the terrible building collapse in Surfside, Florida reminded us that their work is never done.
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Today brings news of a batch of helpful responders of a canine kind.
As NPR reports, this month the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry delivered nine beautiful golden retrievers from Florida, Georgia, Illinois, South Carolina, and Tennessee to Champlain Towers South to bring smiles, empathetic eyes, and furry paws to aid in comforting the first responders there.
"We're very concerned about their mental health," said Bonnie Fear, the LCC K-9 crisis response coordinator.
During their week on site, the dog squad was at a makeshift memorial located near the collapsed tower each day. They also visited a family assistance center set up by the Red Cross and a local Publix grocery store.
LCC also placed hearts and markers at the memorial site. Visitors to the memorial site can sign them and leave condolence messages.
"Our prayer for [first responders] is that they make it through,” Fear said, “they find what they need to mentally process and to know, in their minds, that they found someone's loved one, they made a difference for the families. And I hope they hang on to that."
Fear explained how people at the memorial immediately noticed the dogs -- in their cute, blue “Please Pet Me” vests -- and would pet them, some with tears in their eyes and others with huge smiles.
As NPR detailed, over 130 LCC K-9 comfort dogs serve in 27 states at hospitals, schools, nursing homes, hospice centers, rehab centers, and cancer centers. They are trained to interact with people of all ages who are suffering.
In Surfside, 19 volunteer handlers used behavioral commands to engage the dogs with the first responders they met with.
Fear explained the simple but essential aid the dogs inspire: "They're just real sweet and pleasant when someone comes up to them.”