BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Dogs and their handlers, who are trained crisis counselors, are in Buffalo right now helping people who may be struggling in the midst of Saturday’s mass shooting.
Nine-year-old Mallie, a chocolate lab, enjoyed getting love from visitors to the growing memorials in front of the Tops on Jefferson Avenue Wednesday afternoon. But maybe more than she enjoyed getting pet, the people there enjoyed the sense of calm she brought to the area.
Six crisis counselors and five dogs were called to WNY from New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida. They’re with a group called Tri-State Canine Response Team.
“A lot of times people may not be ready to talk to counselors or to different people, but the unconditional love that a dog gives them the opportunity for the first time to put their arms around the dogs, to decompress, and start to share the kinds of things they’re feeling,” Janice Campbell said, a founder of the group.
As the dogs get some love, the handlers are trained to feel out the situation and counsel people in need.
“We kind of weave it in,” Campbell said. “Sometimes when we’re working with kids, they say they like working with dogs because, ‘They don’t ask questions,’ so when they want to do that, we just let them have their moment with the dog.”
The group, which has 63 volunteers across the country, has been to 11 traumatic events since the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
They were called to Buffalo on Monday and will stay through Friday.
Mallie, Diego, Logan, Abigail and Hazel, along with their handlers, visited the dispatchers who took the calls to 911 on Saturday. They’re also meeting with Tops employees who were in the store that horrible day, and they even visited the Tops location on Elmwood, which is where many are now doing their shopping with the Jefferson location closed.
“Our dogs’ work is to make people smile, and we see that over and over again, even in the worst of situations,” Pam Bolden said, a member of the group.
When they’re done in Buffalo, they’ll go home and decompress. Each handler will speak with a therapist, who’s a part of the response group, to make sure they’re ok too.
Kelsey Anderson is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.