Dogs lend comfort at scenes of devastation

Club Member Amy Rideout's dog, EVA on left.They were on the scene after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and the shootings at Virginia Tech. And they've been at scores of horrors that may not have grabbed national headlines but that slammed a community to its knees."People in crisis often feel very isolated," says Amy Rideout, president of the non-profit that has specially trained HOPE teams from coast to coast. "Just reaching out and petting a dog can be the first step in breaking through that."Like all therapy dog teams, these are people and their pets trained to be patient and kind when dealing with people in need, to look into their eyes and show them that somehow love prevails.But the HOPE teams "are screened and trained to respond to more intense emotions and in more unpredictable environments and situations" than the regular therapy dog team that visits hospitals, nursing homes and libraries, Rideout says. To join HOPE, teams must undergo such specialized training as crisis intervention, first aid and CPR. On site, HOPE teams often work directly with mental health professionals.

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By Sharon L. Peters Special for USA TODAY

Behind the scenes at the nation's most horrific tragedies, a small group of volunteers, two- and four-legged, unseen and unsung, work quietly to break trauma's grip on the survivors.Because they know that a few minutes with a sensitive dog can bring a smile or vanquish the pain for a moment, one or several of the 92 therapy dog handlers and their dogs that make up HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response will journey (often hundreds of miles) when asked, to provide comfort after tragedy strikes.Jamie, a certified crisis response dog and Greyhound rescue owned by Debra Jordan, licks the face of Kathy Bucksbee, who was playing therole of a distraught mother of missing children at a HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response regional training session at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle in Erie, Pa.

Ian, Sara and Michaela read to Eva and Amy Rideout at the John Porter Library.

The mission of the R.E.A.D.  program is to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.

The Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program improves children's reading and communication skills by employing a powerful method: reading to a dog. But not just any dog. R.E.A.D. dogs are registered therapy animals who volunteer with their owner/handlers as a team, going to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children.

There are different types of service and therapy dogs.  Click on the video clip to watch an inspirational video of one amazing dog.

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