Therapy dog group helps dispatchers in wake of shootings

Jacob Smith • Mar 5, 2018 at 5:36 PM

In the wake of several shootings across the country, along with other tragic events, Canines 4 Christ does its best to help 911 dispatchers cope with the some of the disturbing things they hear during calls.

According to the organization’s local Chaplain Ron Leonard, he and therapy dog, Molly, plan to reach out to all local 911 dispatchers about visiting.

Leonard mentioned the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the church shooting in Sutherland, Texas and most recently school shootings in Benton, Kentucky and Parkland, Florida as reasons the therapy dogs are needed. He said it’s often easy to overlook the job the dispatchers do because most of their work is done behind the scenes.

“My wife and I so appreciate what [911 dispatchers] do literally behind the scenes at our nation’s 911 communication centers,” said Leonard. “You all are really our hidden heroes. As we enter the fall and going into 2018, our therapy dogs will be reaching out to our 911 dispatchers, many of whom struggle with ongoing PTSD issues because of the calls they handle day in and day out. Our ultimate goal is to provide a therapy dog to any 911 communications Center that needs or wants one.”

Leonard and Molly will travel the country and visit with first responders and 911 dispatchers. Leonard and Molly make regular visits to dispatchers in Nashville; Tampa, Florida; Paducah, Kentucky; Cincinnati; and Atlanta.

Besides Leonard, the organization has 700 volunteers in 29 states with more than 700 therapy dogs ready to respond when called on. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security endorse all the therapy dogs as faith-based crisis response dogs.

Canines 4 Christ is a nonprofit Christian organization that brings therapy dogs to cancer centers, grief centers, children’s hospitals, 911 centers and other locations.

“Our goal is to bring love, joy and comfort in the midst of the situation that we’re dealing with for people that need that,” said Canines 4 Christ founder Larry Randolph. “We have well [more than] 700 canines throughout the world that have been approved to go out into the community, so it’s an amazing ministry.”

Randolph said the goal of the organization is to relieve stress from those who face stressful situations in their day-to-day life.

“It reaches people in amazing ways. It gives people hope to know that there’s an organization that cares about them in this way and wants to help in this manner. They’re usually just so happy to see us. Well, they’re happy to see the dog. The dog is the door opener. Most people love dogs, so of course, they like to play with the dog. We get a warm welcome, and every now and then, we get a pat on our back, too.”

Wilson County 911 communications coordinator Teresa Fisher admitted that, while most calls are routine, hearing about some of the events can take its toll.

“A lot of people don’t realize that dispatchers themselves can suffer from PTSD,” said Fisher. “We’re lucky here to be such a close group. We comfort each other when something comes across.”

According to Fisher, Wilson County dispatchers don’t have any specific program in place to help out, but they’re able to help each other out when a particularly rough call is answered.

“We’re like a family,” said Fisher. “[Director Karen Moore] has a quiet corner in her office, and if someone needs to take a minute and just be alone, she’ll let them be alone for a while.”

Fisher said Canines 4 Christ representatives have visited them in the past, but they’ve never gotten to the point where they’ve had to call in the organization.

“They’ve come by here, but only on visits,” said Fisher. “We never requested them. We’re a pretty resilient bunch here, and we’ve got each other to lean on, thankfully.”

For more information of Canines 4 Christ, visit k9forchrist.org.

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