NORMAN — Therapy Dogs International’s local Oklahoma Disaster Stress Relief Dog Team is responding to the Moore tornado to offer a helping paw to those in need of a furry hug.
With approximately 24,000 dogs in the TDI network and more than 100 in the Oklahoma region, the group has stepped up to help soothe those suffering in the aftermath of the tornado. Therapy dog handlers “usually volunteer where they are needed,” said Ursula Kempe, president of TDI, adding that dogs go to schools and even help in reading programs where children read to them. The group’s website lists home, hospice, hospital and nursing home visits among others places therapy dogs can help calm and cheer those in need. Services are always free.
Kempe said “we go where we are needed,” and that means in the mornings, dogs from various parts of the country are going down streets in Moore where tornado destruction is, greeting people working in the rubble and comforting them for a bit. After a rest, the dogs go to visit shelters and community centers in the afternoons.
The dogs are welcomed as they do their wag-tail work.
“Oh, you should see it. The dogs are very well received. People really love them,” Kempe said. “It seems to really help. When people are going through the rubble of their houses, and they see the dogs walking down the street, they smile. They come and see the dogs.”
Disaster Stress Relief (DSR) program within TDI was born out of the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. DSR teams were there working with the families of the victims as well as emergency personnel. Out of tragedy came comfort.
TDI also responded to the Noble wildfires and various other past disasters in Oklahoma. They continue their work in Newtown, Conn., and are working in Boston, Mass., West, Texas, Granbury, Texas, (recent tornadoes) and have just completed their mission in the school shootings in Taft, Calif.