AUSTIN, Texas — Two four-legged locals trained in comforting victims of traumatic events headed to El Paso Monday to provide emotional support and healing to the victims of the tragic mass shooting.
Abner and Martha are two golden retrievers who are members of the K9 Comfort Dog program at the Bethany Lutheran Church in Austin.
According to Pastor Martin Danner, Abner and Martha will be joined by three handlers – a primary coordinator and two volunteers. They'll be heading to the airport on Monday morning and coming back on Friday.
The goldens will join several other dogs across the nation who are a part of the Lutheran Church Charities program. Currently, about 170 dogs are part of the program. They're all trained in the Chicago area, and later join churches and trained handlers to help out after traumatic events such as the Santa Fe and Parkland shootings and Hurricane Harvey.
Once in El Paso, Abner and Martha will join Rev. Roger Schlechte, Rocky Mountain District President, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), Rev. Dr. Karl Heimer, Pastor & CEO of Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care, and Pastor Stephen Heimer from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. From there, they will address where they are needed most.
Comfort dogs are trained to work with multiple handlers anywhere. Pastor Danner said that, in a way, it's really not about the dogs at all.
In fact, the handlers are not even trained counselors. Instead, the dogs are there to provide an outlet for processing pain or stress.
For example, Abner and Martha may just let a child or an adult hold on to them and cry. Pastor Danner said that when a person who experiences trauma comes into contact with a comfort dog, sometimes they are better able to let out their anxieties and emotional pain and start processing what they experienced.
When the comfort dogs are not helping victims of traumatic events, you may find them in your local community at places like special needs preschools, therapy or rehab clinics, or nursing homes.
The program is run strictly on volunteers and donations, and they never charge for their services.
Dogs in the nationwide K9 Comfort Program will also be providing services to the victims of the Dayton, Ohio, shooting that occurred less than 24 hours after the incident in El Paso.
You can learn more about the dogs on Facebook and Instagram. And for more information about donating to the program, click here.
Three First Responder Facility Dogs named Lady, Rudy and Chanel were also sent to assist in El Paso. They were trained by the local nonprofit Service Dogs, Inc., to provide relief for first responders and emergency medical personnel from the stress, trauma and grief they experience daily on the job keeping the rest of us safe.
“These dogs touch places in the heart no human can,” says Sheri Soltes, Founder and President of Service Dogs, Inc.
Along with their handlers, all EMS Relations Managers for Methodist Healthcare System in San Antonio, are seeing hundreds of hospital workers, paramedics, firefighters and families throughout the week in El Paso.
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