Skip to main content

Therapy Dogs Bring Comfort After Tragedy

Sue Grundfest
Pet Partners Evaluator & Instructor

Sunday, October 1, 2017, changed Las Vegas forever. It changed the world forever. Las Vegas is a very tight-knit community and if you are there visiting, even for a short while, you are part of that community. The immediate aftermath of October 1st brought out the best in humanity, in response to the worst. And the therapy animal teams with one of our Las Vegas Community Partners, Love Dog Adventures, were privileged to be invited into the inner circle of healing through our strong partnerships with education and healthcare communities.

In addition to keeping up with almost all of the normally scheduled visits, the past week has been devoted to bringing our therapy teams (dogs and cats) to as many people as possible. Everyone in town has been impacted by the event, so the demand is extremely high. Love Dog therapy teams have crossed the valley helping people cope with the stress of the event and the aftermath. We have been to so many places the lines are blurred. Of course, we spent time in hospitals with the families of the victims, police officers and first responders, as well as churches, schools and more of the like. We even got calls from the Las Vegas Review Journal and Fox 5 KVVU. But where we were on one particular evening was so special.

We met with the incoming class of medical students at the UNLV School of Medicine. This is the first semester since the college was accredited and the college is right next door to UMC Hospital, which is where the most critical victims were brought. The College and the Hospital work in tandem and the students felt very strongly about everything that was happening right around them. They could not sit in class without hearing the sirens. They could not park their cars without going past reporters. And when they turned on the television, they saw their professors, the doctors and the surgeons who spent countless hours and days after the attack doing what they will be doing one day.

But when the Love Dogs showed up, the mood changed. It was palpable. You could feel the tension lessen and as the students clamored around the five dogs, they relaxed. We were told it was the first time since Sunday night the students were smiling, breathing easily and putting the weight of their future careers on hold. As they watched the response to the event unfold before their very eyes, they saw their future roles as doctors, first responders and people responsible for life and, unfortunately, sometimes death. Did they know that the greatest lesson they would learn in medical school would be compassion, commitment, responsibility and the hard facts of decision making as a physician?

And what I noticed most was how our handlers were experiencing the week through new eyes. Never forget how emotional volunteering is at both ends of the leash. Our animals feel the stress and so do our humans. At some point during the visit, I looked over and saw our amazing handlers reflect on why they were here. This was not just another college visit. This was important. THEY were important. As they cared for their pets, making sure they had water and breaks, I reminded the human end of the leash to take good care of themselves as well.

We left the building as a team, tired but oh so proud of ourselves and our Pet Partners.