March 30, 2010 – Washington, DC
When a local or national tragedy strikes, emergency response agencies often call on trained canine teams to provide emotional comfort to the people affected. These Animal-Assisted Crisis Response (AACR) organizations have grown over the last decade, prompting the emergency management community to request that canine crisis response teams have essential skills, training and knowledge of disaster relief operations. As a result, national non-profit organizations Hope AACR and National AACR announce the publication and release of the AACR National Standards.
“These standards are the first of their kind,” said National AACR President Cindy Ehlers. “They give emergency response agencies the tools they need to call on the right AACR teams.” The national standards address the training, evaluation and certification of AACR teams, as well as the organizational structure that should be in place to manage the teams. In addition, they cover the care and health of the canines, ensuring for their safety. “When emergency response agencies call on AACR teams that follow the national standards, they will know that they are getting teams that are not only committed to helping people, but are also experienced in crisis response,” said Hope AACR President Amy Rideout.
AACR teams have provided emotional support to people affected by disaster since the 1990s. They have been deployed to some of the country’s most horrific disasters such as New York City following the 2001 terrorist attacks, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, Texas after Hurricane Ike, and to both the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University campus shootings. “Of all the post trauma resources available at Virginia Tech, including roving ‘mental-health workers,’ religious groups, group counseling sessions, etc., I found the therapy dogs to be the most useful,” wrote KC Arceneaux, Virginia Tech professor in a letter thanking National AACR for their support after the tragedy. “It’s ok to smile at a dog, even when everyone is grieving.”
“Their tireless work, positive attitude and professionalism far exceeded my expectations,” said Kristy Lohr, director of crisis outpatient services following Hurricane Ike. “I could not have asked for a better team of dogs and adults. They brought with them overwhelming peace and support.”
National AACR and Hope AACR represent a voluntary network of specially-trained, canine and handler teams. These organizations partner with disaster mental health and emergency response agencies to provide emotional rescue, recovery and on-going support to individuals who have been affected by crisis and disaster.