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Comfort from animals can come from anywhere

When a tragedy hits a community, even one far from our homes, many of us have an instinct to want to help, but it isn’t always obvious how to help.

Financial donations are obviously always a help, but sometimes it isn’t clear where such donations will do the most help. And while money can help, many people want a way to help more directly.

Volunteering with organizations like the Red Cross is one way to help in the event of an emergency, as is working with other disaster relief organizations.

In the Tuesday, Nov. 28, edition of the Butler Eagle, we learned about Cece Petersen, a Cranberry Township woman whose volunteer work with one such organization, HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, took her to Maine in the aftermath of the deadly mass shooting in late October.

Petersen and her comfort dog, Fergus, arrived in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 30, just five days after a man opened fire at a bar and a bowling alley in the town, killing 18, injuring 13 and leaving the entire area scared and traumatized.

Such situations are something comfort animals are well suited to helping with. In 2018, for example, the National Institutes of Health noted that interacting with dogs can reduce stress hormones, raise the level of the bonding hormone oxytocin and lower blood pressure, among other benefits.

One way in which HOPE differs from some other support organizations is that it also focuses on the first responders helping with a crisis.

“Stress management and compassion fatigue are important considerations when deciding how to take care of first responders and staff members,” the organization wrote on its website. “Interacting with calm, well-mannered dogs is known to help decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, and allow people to de-stress in a simple yet effective way.”

The handlers and the dogs are both trained to meet Animal-Assisted Crisis Response standards, including dealing with a crisis and helping care for caregivers and first responders.

The work of people like Petersen has helped thousands of people as they recover from a disaster. Their work is part of a larger effort to support the emotional, as well as physical, needs, and something that people who want to help in a disaster can consider.

— JK

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