Service Dogs Provide Comfort to First Responders in El Paso

Clear the Shelters
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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.

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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 from Aug. 1 through Aug. 31, featuring virtual pet adoptions to make it easy for people to donate online to participating shelters and rescues.

More than 150,000 pets found their forever homes since 2015 and we want to add to the number.

Find a shelter near you:

  • Pasco County Animal Services, 19640 Dogpatch Lane, Land O'Lakes
  • Paw Warriors, Inc., 355 Spring Time Street, Spring Hill
  • Pinellas County Animal Services, 12450 Ulmerton Road, Largo
  • Cat Haven Rescue, Inc, 1231 Bruce B. Downs Blvd, Wesley Chapel
  • Cat Haven Rescue, Inc - Pasco, 8529 Little Road, New Port Richey
  • SPCA Tampa Bay, 9099 130th Ave N, Largo
  • Bishop Animal Shelter SPCA of Manatee County, 5718 21st Ave West, Bradenton
  • Hernando County Animal Services, 19450 Oliver Street, Brooksville
  • SPCA Florida, 5850 Brannen Rd S, Lakeland
  • Barking Out Loud Rescues, Inc, 300 N Lake Drive, Lorida
  • Precious Paws Rescue, Inc., Citrus County Florida, 5164 S. Florida Avenue, Inverness
  • Humane Society of Pinellas, 3040 State Road 590, Clearwater
  • Hernando County SPCA, 9075 Grant St, Brooksville
  • St Francis Society, PO Box 261614, Tampa
  • Humane Society of Tampa Bay, 3607 N Armenia Avenue, Tampa
  • Rebels Rescue, Petco 136 S. West shore Blvd, Tampa
  • SPCA Suncoast, 7734 Congress Street, New Port Richey
  • Friends of Strays Animal Shelter, 2911 47th Avenue North, St. Petersburg
  • Florida English Bulldog Rescue, P.O. Box 754, Odessa
  • The Humane Society of Polk County, Inc, 3195 Dundee Rd, Winter Haven
  • The Humane Society of Sarasota County, 2331 15th Street, Sarasota
  • Hands Helping Paws Rescue Inc., 53 W Bay Blvd S, Lake Wales
  • Humane Society of Manatee County, 2515 14th Avenue W, Bradenton
  • Highlands County Sheriffs Animal Services, 7300 Haywood Taylor Blvd, Sebring
  • Manatee County Animal Services, 305 25th St W, Palmetto
  • SPCA Suncoast, 7734 Congress Street, New Port Richey
  • Citrus County Animal Services, 4030 S. Airport Rd, Inverness
  • St Francis Society, PO Box 261614, Tampa
  • FLUFF Animal Rescue, 9400 SEMINOLE BOULEVARD, SEMINOLE
  • SPCA Tampa Bay, 9099 130th Ave N, Largo
  • Polk County Sheriff's Office Animal Control, 7115 De Castro Rd, Winter Haven
  • The Greener Side Haven, Inc., 3892 N Lecanto Hwy, Beverly Hills
  • Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch, 26920 Gopher Hill Road, Myakka City

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