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Monday-- May 20, 2002óGround Zero Plus 251

"How To Be A Therapy
Dog Of Vigilance!"
by
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
 

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, May 20--Vigilance has gone to the dogs--real dogs. 
        They are called "therapy dogs."   
        Specially trained and chosen for their job, the dogs are used to help people connect with compassion and unconditional love after a tragedy, or when they are sick or lonely.   Some of these dogs were used to help trauma victims of the Terrorist attack on September 11 fill the void of emptiness the loss of loved ones created deep in their soul.
        Steve Shlocak owns three "Nine Eleven Therapy Dogs."    The dogs were adopted by the firemen of Engine Company 24 Ladder Company 5 long before the attack on the World Trade Center last year.
         Shlocak, who owns a famous New York landmark bar and restaurant called Chumley's in the Chelsea district of New York City, has three such dogs who provide solace to men, women and children suffering the fallout from Nine Eleven Terrorism.   The dogs live both in his bar and restaurant--historically known as a  "watering hole" for famous writers and poets such as Steinbeck and Hemmingway--and at the local fire station.   Besides pictures of world-famous writers who visited his establishment over the years, the pub also contains a Hall of Heroes, boasting pictures of fallen firemen who died heroically saving others.
        When he first moved to New York, Shlocak lived next to the fire station.  His dogs became mascots of the firemen stationed there.  They provided unconditional love and comfort to the men who fought fires round the clock.
        When 9-11 occurred, the dogs enjoyed a special mission--take the pain and suffering from the firemen, their loved ones, and victims when no human medicine or comfort seemed to do the job.
        Shlocak recalls how one dog brought a young child out her deep depression.   Each day immediately following the Terrorist attack, the little girl and her mother would sit at the Family Assistance Center waiting to hear word about her father's plight--was he dead or alive?  The little girl said nothing.   Social and medical workers and her mother and psychologists all tried to get her to speak, but she said not a single word.
         The therapy dog, sensing her loneliness and pain, sat next to her, his head on her lap, his large brown eyes looking up at her.  She petted him.
         Then, when the news came that probably there were no more survivors, the little girl was overhead talking to the "therapy dog."   She told the dog about her father, how brave he was, and how had died for her.   She didn't speak to any human being, but only to the dog each day, until the pain and suffering inside her finally burst into a flood of tears and she began to grieve, releasing within her stored anger and denial of her father's death.
         According to Shlocak, many therapy dogs return to their homes from a long day's work with the victims of a tragedy totally drained, exhausted, some hardly able to walk.
         "They somehow connect with a person's pain.  It is as if they mind-meld with the victim, sharing the weight of the suffering, assuming it, consuming it," he said.
         His dogs not only help victims, but also serve as members of a Hero Squad.   They have attended over 13 burials of firemen who died, sitting quietly, honoring those who died.
         Prior to owning the bar, Shlocak worked in psychotherapy.  He used his dogs as tools to get people to break through their denial and pain, urging them to start talking about the suffering so they could work through it.
         "Dog have a natural instinct to help someone who is suffering," he said.  "People feel comfortable talking to a dog when they don't to others."
         He said the dogs undergo an intensive training program and are kept by individuals who volunteer their time and service.
         All dogs are certified, he said.   In a book written by Allen Schoen and Pam Proctor entitled "Love, Miracles and Animal Healing," the authors report:  " By their very presence in our midst, animals awaken in us the desire to respond and to love."
     The oldest and largest therapy dog organization, Therapy Dogs International (TDI) was founded in 1976 and has members in all 50 states, including Canada.  It was started in 1976 by Elaine Smith, formerly of Hillside, NJ, now a resident of California. A registered nurse working in England, Smith observed the benefits of pets interacting with patients. She noticed how the patients reacted to the daily visits of the chaplain and his companion, a golden retriever. Upon returning to the United States, Smith was determined to bring the concept of pet therapy to health care facilities.
        She says, "Four-footed therapists give something medical science canít do, without the use of drugs. It has been clinically proven that through petting, touching and talking with the animals, patientsí blood pressure is lowered, stress is relieved and depression is eased."
        Owners of dogs volunteer their pets and time.   Dogs are certified by the American Kennel Association's "Good Neighbor Test" to assure their ability to interact with people under severe stress.  Besides disasters, the dogs are used in psychotherapy, to visit hospitals, and provide comfort for aged.
         As I spoke with those involved in bringing comfort through therapy dogs, I wondered what it would be like if each Parent of Vigilance were to assume the attitude of a Therapy Dog.   Reaching inside a child to touch his or her inner soul with safety and security, with trust and benevolence, is the key to driving out the Terrorism that lingers within.   Animals, such as dogs, have such an ability.  They sense one's emotional pain and sniff it out, providing unconditional concern for the innermost feelings of those who suffer from it.
          As a child, I grew up with dogs.  They were my best friends, my solace to sores on my soul.   They loved me unconditionally, and I was able to love them back with the same passion.  I knew if nothing else, I had my dog.   And my dog knew it.  I was always safe with him.
          We often times, as adults, forget that Fear, Intimidation and Complacency takes roots in the deep wells of the mind--especially in children.   Sometimes it takes a non-human element to bring them out of the darkness, to provide safety and security so the child can face his or her Fears, Intimidations and Complacencies.
          Therapy Dogs are the Bloodhounds of Vigilance.  They can sniff out the pain, isolate it, bring it to the surface where it can flood away in tears, or be exposed for treatment.   
          I wonder about us, as Parents of Vigilance, thinking more in terms of a Therapy Dog than as a parent or guardian.   If we study nature's best teachers, we can learn a great deal about how to cross the barriers between ourselves and our children.   Perhaps laying our head in our child's lap is one way.   Perhaps just sitting next to our child and hugging him or her without speaking a word, imagining ourselves a Therapy Dog, transmits more love than a thousand or a million words might.
        Building trust and confidence in a child to share his or her innermost feelings is not an easy task.   Therapy Dogs are often exhausted at the end of  a day's work, as though they took the burden of the victims into their being and its weight was onerous.   
        It takes the elements of Vigilance for us to assumed such a role.  It requires us to be filled with Courage, Conviction and the ability to take the Right Action.   Sometimes that Right Action is just sitting next to our child, saying nothing, assuming the role of a human comforter rather than a teacher or guardian.  Just being an "unconditional friend," is often all that is needed for a child to release the "secrets" within, to let the pain flood.
       If one is unable to get a dog, or a pet that can be loved and give love back, then perhaps the family can get a toy dog, a stuffed one that it uses to "pretend" to be a dog.   If mothers and fathers use the dog as a tool to love unconditionally with a child, perhaps it can help strengthen the communication between adult and child.
       There are no rules to effecting Vigilance between ones self and others.    Except for one overriding rule--that the more bridges you build between honest communication about Fears, Intimidations and Complacencies the safer you are from Terrorism.
       Be a Therapy Dog Of Vigilance.   Love unconditionally.

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