In the fall of 2016 a bright idea came to fruition when Sebastian was scheduled to attend a flu clinic with his handler, MRC volunteer Terry Comier. Sebastian, a since-retired therapy dog certified by Pet Partners, brought a lot of smiles to the clinics – an otherwise upsetting situation for children. Sebastian was invited back to by name the following year because shots reportedly hurt less and his presence brightened the clinic environment for hundreds of Berkshire County residents of any age.
Meanwhile, the good folks from Canine Link, a local dog certifying organization, were inquiring with MRC about getting involved with disaster response. They had teams of therapy dogs and handlers eager to serve, and MRC had the preparedness training to offer and an organized approach to supporting the community in emergent times.
People who have been impacted by disaster can experience depression, extreme stress, generalized anxiety, and a host of other problems that can be remedied – for a time – by an opportunity to bond with an unconditionally loving animal. In May 2018, a training program commenced for eleven handlers from Pet Partners, Canine Link and Therapy Dogs International and the Canine Support Team of the Berkshire Medical Reserve Corps was formed.
Berkshire MRC created this program to increase response capacity and community resilience in a meaningful way that may lesson the short and long terms effects of disasters on individuals and their communities. On March 15, 2019 and in days to follow, the MRC Canine Support Team went to work to fulfill that mission. Several volunteers were deployed to bring therapy dogs to the Undermountain Elementary School to provide comfort to children whose classmates were victims of homicide and house fire. The team was also present at an interfaith vigil, as community members struggled to understand and accept the tragedy that occurred in Sheffield MA. At least two news stations provided coverage of the dogs at the event, and the Medical Reserve Corps was mentioned in one of them.
In other work, Canine Support Team members have provided first responders from different disciplines with realistic simulations of possible future events by participating in functional exercises as well as regional Basic Animal Rescue Training (BART). In the latter, small animal handling/restraint, assessment/first aid, and animal CPR is taught to firefighters, EMTs, police officers and animal control officers.
If you are a therapy dog handler who would like to join the Medical Reserve Corps Canine Support Team, please contact Corinne at firstname.lastname@example.org