Boulder, CO King Soopers ShootingsStart Date: 04/04/2021
ZuZu and I arrived the afternoon before we were to begin our deployment. Lee and two other members of the RM Region were waiting for us and were very welcoming. We chatted and fell right into a friendship already forged in our dedication to HOPE and it's missions. Lee gave me a tour of the facility and familiarized me with the routine. Because I had been involved in responding the the Virginia Beach shootings I was not intimidated by the fact that I would be working as a solo team my first two days of the deployment. Combined with my past experience, the introduction provided by Lee and the other two RM members, and the set up of the operation I felt confident that ZuZu and I would be just fine.
We arrived on Saturday morning at 10:45 AM. It was not long after 11:00 that members from the community and King Soopers employees began to trickle in. It was a slow but constant trickle until about 2 PM when it slowed down considerably. The individuals would check in at the "front desk" and let the greeters know who they were here to see - Kroeger HR, Counselor, etc. Most were initially brought directly to the HOPE "living room". This became an excellent ice breaking center as you could visibly see the individuals begin to relax as they interacted with ZuZu or on Tuesday ,when Mia and Stella arrived, with the three dogs. One King Soopers employee commented that it was knowing that the dogs would be here is what got her to leave her house to come to the resource center. I spoke with one of the counselors who had worked for the federal government and with HOPE at the Navy Yard shootings and Hurricane Sandy. She stated that she felt our dogs, "melted into the room", taking much of the awkwardness out of the initial meetings with the counselors. Our teams offer a perfect Segway for the counselors to begin interacting with those in need. I also had a great talk with a member of the Red Cross who commented on the fact that we have "response ability". So very true!
It was good to see members of the surrounding community using the resource center. There is so much emotion - sadness, anger, disbelief that this horrible act could happen here. One community member stated, "This can happen anywhere and is happening anywhere." As we spent some time walking the memorial wall that had developed on the fencing around King Soopers the enormity of it all settled in on me, my husband and I believe even ZuZu.
The center was open on Easter Sunday from 11:00 to 4:00. Everyone felt that there was no way to know whether it would be very quiet in the center on that day or very busy. It did wind up to be very quiet with only 4 individuals using the resource center. A group of local therapy dog teams arrived at the wall and interacted with people outside. This was helpful as it allowed ZuZu and me to stay in the center to great anyone who arrived. The center was closed on Monday giving everyone a break.
On Tuesday I met two arriving teams: Chris and Mia from Missouri and Wendy and Stella from Arizona. The fact that we were able to fall into lock step from the moment we met is a testament to the training we all receive in HOPE. I was able to introduce the two new teams to the center and how things were working. Again, having only experienced a holiday weekend it was hard to know how busy a Tuesday would be. The morning proved to have a steady stream a little heavier than on Saturday and by 2:00 it had slowed to a trickle. We are finding repeat visitors who are loving their time with the HOPE dogs. When Wendy and Stella walked the wall they came upon a young woman who was deeply grieving. She was unaware of the resources available and eventually came up to the center. She spend quite a bit of time with all three dogs and by the end of her visit was all smiles and remarking that, "this was the best day of her life." It was wonderful to see that transformation and relief she had for at least a bit of time.
The other responders at the center and the individuals using the resources at the center were extremely appreciative of HOPEs involvement and blown away by the fact that teams were responding from different parts of the country. They were quite impressed at how well our dogs worked together. And got quite a chuckle of the comfort dogs needing comfort when a thunderstorm struck. All three of the dogs were unhappy with the thunder but fortunately it passed pretty quickly.
A police officer from Aurora who is part of the crisis response for that community spent some time asking us about how we support groups in our own communities and requested information on how to contact HOPE to arrange such support. We provided him with our literature. At one point on Saturday one of the survivors was asking the counselors and LCSW about obtaining a PTSD service dog. The LCSW team came to me for information and I directed them to the AKC as I did not feel it wise for any of us on the response team to be looking as though we were endorsing any particular training group and that it was beyond our scope.
Leaving this deployment early is a huge disappointment to me. I woke up on Tuesday morning with a knee so swollen I could barely walk and needed a cane to get by. My teammates were better and getting me to take care of myself than I am. They convinced me that I had done a good job and that I needed to step back. Now that I am back in my motorhome and am better able to reflect I know they are right.Agency: City of Boulder
Wendy Guy and Stella of PSW; Chris Bridge and Mia of MW