Comfort dogs are helping survivors cope with trauma at the #BoulderStrong Resource Center

Certified-trained comfort dogs are greeting those impacted by the Boulder Table Mesa tragedy at the #BoulderStrong Resource Center. They provide a non-judgmental presence and a calming effect.

The dogs are part of the newly formed organization, BoulderStrong Comfort Dogs. The group is made up of volunteers from therapy dog programs at Avista Hospital, Boulder Community Health, Longmont Hospital, and Longs Peak Hospital. The group is trying to pull in some dog handling teams from Good Samaritan. And they have a DIA team from outside of Boulder that wants to join the program. The new comfort dog program is being coordinated by Sue Dague. “It is a local effort to heal our community by people who live in the community by using our special dogs,” Dague said.

Dague is excited that BoulderStrong Comfort Dogs have been able to join the recovery efforts and help. “I have been working on it for hours after the shooting. So the fact that it's come to fruition, I'm thrilled. We have about 15 teams that have signed up and offered to serve. We are doing this free of charge. We are volunteers, our dogs are volunteers and they actually call us to work. Most of these dogs need this job and we love them. People love to use their dogs to help.”

Willow being held on the leash by her handler Nancy Malchow.

Comfort dogs assist people affected by disasters. “What makes them special is that they know the signs of stress,” Dague said. “These are specially trained dogs to deal with stressful situations and to be able to provide comfort.” One of the comfort dogs is Willow, a gentle Irish Wolfhound. It is listed as the tallest dog breed in the world but despite its imposing presence, Irish Wolfhounds are good-natured and make excellent comfort dogs. Willow will make you feel extremely safe and loved while you are snuggling this loving and compassionate large dog.

Nancy Malchow is Willow’s handler. When discussing why Nancy was chosen to start the program, Dague said, “Nancy had come up within hours of the shooting and was at the fence to help and support and comfort people there. So I chose her because of her heart, to want to help.” Since the volunteers all live within the Boulder area, their willingness to bring their comfort dogs to #BoulderStrong Resource Center helps give back to their community too.

Comfort animals can have a profound impact on a person who is dealing with stress and trauma

Comfort dogs are proving that they are man's best friend in time of need. The dogs sense pain, stress, and sadness. They want to give unconditional love and attention. When dealing with trauma, comfort dogs can help victims and survivors feel safe and secure while also helping them also find the courage to talk about the event. In some cases, survivors arrive at the center with tight shoulders, looking at the ground, and afraid to engage. Once the dogs come up to them, the hands go down, and they start petting the dogs. The dogs provide a calming and relaxing effect. Comfort dogs have been known to crawl into the laps of trauma victims, providing victims with the ability to release pent up feelings and emotions.

Saying thank you to HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response (HOPE AACR)

Initially after the March 22nd incident, HOPE AACR arrived at the #BoulderStrong Resource Center to assist in the recovery efforts. Their two comfort dogs brought comfort to those who came in for support services. Comfort dog handler Sheryl Clark told KDVR Fox 31 News, "There's one guy that's been coming in every single day and spends three to four hours here just for the dogs."

Recently, one of the comfort dogs befriended a client who came into the resource center. This man had been outside of King Soopers when the incident began in the parking lot. As he scratched Grace's head, Grace jumped into his lap. HOPE AACR team leader Sandy Miller told the Colorado Springs Gazette, "You could tell that having Grace there was pretty cool for him. It was like a release. Sometimes our dogs detect anxiety, and they'll do things like give a paw, or snuggle really close. That's their job, to comfort people, and that's what she did."

Even though HOPE AACR is no longer the organization providing the comfort dogs, #BoulderStrong Resource Center appreciated their volunteer efforts to help the Boulder community. The comfort dogs proved to be a welcomed addition to the center and in helping people cope with the trauma.

As Mental Health Partners continues to work towards helping survivors of the Boulder Table Mesa tragedy, the comfort dogs are still one of the many services offered at the #BoulderStrong Resource Center. The BoulderStrong Comfort Dogs are at the center on Tuesdays through Fridays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Volunteer comfort dogs work and rotate in two-hour increments so that they are not overly stressed too.

We encourage anyone needing support to come into the center or give us a call at (303) 545-0844.

Mental Health Partners, which manages the center, continues to raise funds to ensure that the center can continue to provide healing and recovery services at no charge. If you would like to help, please consider donating to the TogetherStrong Fund One hundred percent of each dollar received by this fund will be invested in the resource center.

To donate online, please click here and in the drop-down box asking for the purpose of your gift, please indicate TogetherStrong Fund