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Tue, Oct. 22

Therapy dogs to join volunteers in Trauma Intervention Program
Comfort in crisis

Mayer Firefighter Dave Lattman shares a hug with Buster during training Saturday in Prescott Valley. Lattman helped to familiarize the therapy dogs with firefighters' gear.<br>
TribPhoto/Heidi Dahms Foster

Mayer Firefighter Dave Lattman shares a hug with Buster during training Saturday in Prescott Valley. Lattman helped to familiarize the therapy dogs with firefighters' gear.<br> TribPhoto/Heidi Dahms Foster

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When the idea surfaced that trauma scenes in Yavapai County would be the perfect place for therapy dogs to work their special magic, the Trauma Intervention Program didn't have far to go to find likely candidates.

It seems TIP volunteers are dog lovers, too, and they produced a plethora of pooches perfect for the job.

TIP volunteers respond throughout the county to fires, car accidents and other traumatic events such as the recent sweat lodge disaster in Sedona, where they offer emotional and practical support to victims. One volunteer described their demeanor as "affected and compassionate without the emotional attachment to the scene."

Therapy dogs are uniquely suited to such events. They provide comfort to victims, especially children, who may not talk to adults. They inject normalcy and warmth into abnormal environments.

On Saturday, the prospective TIP dogs and their handlers underwent preliminary training to introduce them to the challenges they would face on trauma scenes as TIP's new Volunteer Support Dog Team.

"This weekend was a crash course to expose them to the elements, key in on any problems, and give them the tools for certification," said trainer Crystal Cockroft, who traveled from California Saturday to work with the teams.

The dog/handler teams first met at the Central Yavapai Fire District's training grounds in Prescott Valley. There, after some morning instruction, a CYFD firefighter started up a fire truck, revving the engine to expose the dogs to the noise and the diesel smell. Then he turned on the sirens. The dogs handled the experience well, although a couple of them added a few soulful howls to the din.

Later, the dogs and handlers went to Fain Park, where Prescott Valley K-9 Officer Paul Hines and Officer Matt Williams met them with police dog Joey, and introduced the dogs to the different siren noises of the police car.

Soon, the dogs will undergo testing to receive their Delta Society Therapy Dog credentials.

TIP volunteer Una Loge brought her 8-year-old Golden Retriever Buster to Saturday's training. He is preparing for dual duty - Una will serve with him in TIP, and her husband, David, would like to join the Pets Are Warm Therapy (PAWS) program at Yavapai Regional Medical Center. Buster is a perfect candidate for both. The couple rescued him from a situation in which he was tied to a tree without socialization or training for the first three years of his life. Buster is now a happy, social, obedient dog that didn't appear fazed by Saturday's new experiences.

In fact, Buster showed his special charm with firefighter Dave Lattman of Mayer. Lattman took a few minutes out of a training academy class to pet the dogs and help them get used to the firefighters' gear. He described to the group the recent loss of a beloved dog to cancer, and as he spoke, Buster seemed to catch the emotion, leaning in and giving Lattman a big nuzzle.

TIP volunteer Andrea Ramey joined the training with her German Shepherd, Freki.

"To me this is the icing on the cake," she said. "I've been in situations where after a traumatic event, people didn't want to talk to a person, and they had no way to get rid of their feelings. Animals speak a universal language. You hug a dog, get a kiss from them, and it makes the world right."

Yavapai County TIP director Sue Rutherford said the program has about 60 volunteers in two chapters in the greater Prescott area and in the Verde Valley area. They always need more volunteers, she said, with or without dogs. The initial group of about six to seven dogs appeared to handle all of Saturday's challenges with aplomb, but they still have to pass certification and do six therapy dog visits under supervision. Rutherford said the Jewish Foundation of Greater Prescott provided a grant to pay for training and vests for 10 dogs.

"The dog therapy is a great addition to what TIP does," said David Hess, foundation president. "We're happy to provide money to help with the project."

TIP begins a new training class in the Verde Valley on Thursday, Nov. 12. For more information visit TIPofAZ.org or call Sue at 928-713-6625.

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