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 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Clear The Shelters

Shelters near you

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - Thousands of pets are looking for their forever homes and News Channel 8 is On Your Side helping to make that happen in the Tampa Bay area.

We are teaming up with hundreds of shelters across the country to host Clear the Shelters, a nationwide pet adoption drive on Saturday, August 17, 2019, to help find loving homes for animals in need.

More than 150,000 pets found their forever homes since 2015.

Now is the time for shelters to register by completing the online application located here. Organizations interested in participating in Clear the Shelters must complete the Commitment Registration form to ensure proper verification of all interested participants.

When registering, please make sure you select the TAMPA-ST.PETERSBURG-SARASOTA, FL region. This will put your shelter on our CLEAR THE SHELTERS online map, driving families to your shelter. 

Here are the local shelters that are offering no-cost or reduced-fee adoptions for this event:

  1. Citrus County Animal Services - 4030 S. Airport Rd, Inverness
  2. Humane Society of Polk County - 3195 Dundee Road Winter, Haven
  3. Barking Out Loud Rescue, Inc - 300 N Lake Drive, Lorida
  4. Paw Warriors, Inc. - 355 Spring Time Street, Spring Hill
  5. SPCA Florida - 5850 Brannen Rd S, Lakeland
  6. Friends of Strays Animal Shelter - 2911 47th Avenue North, St. Petersburg
  7. Pinellas County Animal Services - 12450 Ulmerton Road, Largo
  8. SPCA of Hernando County - 9075 Grant St, Brooksville
  9. Humane Society of Tampa Bay - 3607 N Armenia Avenue, Tampa
  10. SPCA Tampa Bay - 9099 130th Ave North, Largo
  11. Highlands County Sheriffs Animal Services - 7300 Haywood Taylor Blvd, Sebring
  12. St. Francis Animal Rescue - 1925 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice
  13. FLUFF Animal Rescue - 11220 Park Blvd N, Seminole
  14. Manatee County Animal Services: Palmetto Shelter - 305 25th St W, Palmetto
  15. Manatee County Cat Town - 216 6th Ave E, Bradenton
  16. Pasco County Animal Services - 19640 Dogpatch Lane, Land O'Lakes
  17. St. Francis Society, Inc. - Pet Smart - 12835 Citrus Plaza Dr, Tampa
  18. The Humane Society of the Nature Coast - 7200 Mobley Road, Brooksville
  19. Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center - 440 N. Falkenburg Road, Tampa
  20. Humane Society of Manatee County - 2515 14th Street W, Bradenton
  21. Save Our Strays Inc. Safety Harbor, FL - 3223 San Jose Street, Clearwater
  22. Polk County Sheriff's Office Animal Control Section - 7115 De Castro Rd, Winter Haven
  23. Hernando County Animal Services - 19450 Oliver St., Brooksville
  24. Bishop Animal Shelter SPCA of Manatee County, FL - 5718 21st Ave W, Bradenton
  25. Humane Society of Pinellas, 3040 State Road 590, Clearwater
  26. Rescue Cats of Florida, 211 West Alexander Street, Plant City
  27. Precious Paws Rescue, 5164 S. Florida Avenue (Route 41), Inverness
  28. Hands Helping Paws Rescue, 53 West Bay Boulevard South, Lake Wales
  29. Cat Kids Rescue, 10500 Ulmerton Road, Suite 308, Largo
  30. Suncoast Animal League, 1030 Pennsylvania Ave., Palm Harbor
  31. Cat Haven Rescue of Tampa-Pasco County, 1231 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Wesley Chapel
  32. Cat Haven Rescue of Pasco County, 8529 Little Road, New Port Richey
  33. Suncoast Humane Society, 6781 San Casa Drive, Englewood
  34. Rebels Rescue, 11665 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa
  35. Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch, 26920 Gopher Hill Road, Myakka city
  36. Cat Crusaders, Inc, 6248 Commerce Palms Drive, Tampa
  37. SPCA Suncoast, 7734 Congress Street, New Port Richey
  38. Rescue Cats of Florida, 3313 Lithia Pinecrest Road, Valrico
  39. Countless Cats Rescue Inc., 3139 Duane Avenue, Oldsmar
  40. Cat Call Inc, Pet Smart 1051 W Brandon Blvd, Brandon
  41. Cat Call Inc, 11331 Causeway Blvd, Brandon

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