• Story by Katie Willis // Photos by Arden Haley

Pay it Back: Crisis Response Canines

Crisis Response Canines

Rosie and Raisin are good dogs, and — be assured — they hear that a lot.

These girls not typical family pets, although they enjoy the comforts of home with owners Barb and Rusty Jefferson of Easton: playing with their four cat siblings, belly rubs on the kitchen floor, sleeping on the couch, and taking in walks on their farm throughout the day. But Barb Jefferson is passionate about making sure that she doesn’t keep them all to herself. She knows they have love to spare, and she wants to make sure those in need experience that healing love, as well.

Members of Pets on Wheels Delmarva Inc. since 2012, Jefferson, Rosie and Raisin are no strangers to the Talbot County pet-loving community. They attend Humane Society of Talbot County events, community events, go to Lowe’s for various training initiatives, and visit Easton Elementary School preschool and special needs classes to provide therapy and comfort to students.

Jefferson, Rosie and Raisin also recently began a new adventure with a burgeoning nonprofit, Crisis Response Canines.

What began as a chance meeting with retired police officer, K-9 trainer, and active-shooter preparation instructor John Hunt of southern New Jersey at a May 2018 Colonial Rottweiler Club Specialty Show has led to a new, significant role for Jefferson. She is now the Maryland regional director for the all-volunteer-run Crisis Response Canines. She said she hopes to help build the organization by securing sponsorships and finding and organizing volunteers — with Rosie and Raisin by her side.

As part of the requirements for joining Crisis Response Canines, volunteer members and leaders like Jefferson submit their canine partners to several certifications, including American Kennel Club National Therapy Dog Certification, AKC Canine Good Citizen Certification and Crisis Response Working Dog Certification.

There also are several trainings at which volunteers and their canines receive specialized training related to traumatic events. Education offerings include guided instruction through human and canine cardiopulmonary resuscitation, canine body language, mental and psychological first aid, as well as HIPAA guidelines. All members also must submit to a background check after applying to volunteer.

But don’t worry, Jefferson said, it doesn’t all have to happen at once to become involved.

“There are two main requirements to become involved: You have to be a part of a nationally recognized therapy program and you have to have your (AKC) Canine Good Citizen,” Jefferson said.

Simply put, Crisis Response Canines was born out of unfortunate necessity. John Hunt, who is the organization’s leader, is a 27-year veteran of the New Jersey State Police and is a retired major, having served as the Homeland Security Special Operations Commanding Officer.

The mission of Crisis Response Canines is “to provide strength, comfort, and emotional support to individuals, families, communities, and first responders experiencing intense emotions in the aftermath of critical incidents.” Communities that have been affected by traumatic personal or large-scale community events, such as mass shootings, accidents, domestic violence, child abuse, tragic death, suicide, terrorism, or natural disasters can benefit from the comfort a therapy dog can bring to such devastating situations.

Crisis Response Canines

The goal of the organization is “to establish a nationwide network of canine crisis response teams who can be deployed immediately where they are needed most.”

There are two “levels,” or teams, within Crisis Response Canines: CRC Comfort and CRC Operational Deployment. Rosie has received the highest honor of the American Kennel Club, AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD), with more than 600 therapy visits to those in need. Until Raisin receives her American Temperament Test Society certification at 18 months of age, she can provide comfort to patients in hospitals or to school staff and students, businesses, veterans organizations and at special events.

“Raisin has received her AKC Canine Good Citizen; AKC Canine Good Citizen Advanced; AKC Canine Good Citizen Urban and AKC Therapy Dog. She’s gotten several titles that have now made her eligible for the therapy comfort part of Crisis Response Canines,” Jefferson said. “Right now, Raisin is qualified for the therapy, but both Raisin and I are going to be taking additional courses so that we can be a part of the deployment team.”

Rosie, because of some physical limitations, will not be part of the deployment team, but will be available on the Mid-Shore for comfort therapy. She is the 2017 Colonial Rottweiler Club winner of the Seger Medallion for unselfishly improving or enhancing the lives of others.

After receiving her ATTS certification in May, Raisin will have the ability to be a part of a local and regional Comfort Team, which will be deployed to traumatic events. Jefferson said if Raisin would have had her certification already, she would have been deployed to Annapolis following the Capital Gazette newspaper shooting in which five people were murdered and two injured, and the recent Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pa., in which 11 people were murdered and seven were injured.

Hunt said Crisis Response Canines Comfort Team offers those affected by these types of critical incidents the opportunity to interact with certified and trained canines of any breed and to provide an initial level of comfort and emotional support that often help people communicate after trauma.

“Almost no one is intimidated by these animals, and they allow people to de-stress and serve as a level of respite and comfort to those who need it,” Hunt said.

Hunt has two certified Rottweilers who have been trained to offer comfort and who are members of the deployment team.

Recent Crisis Response Canine deployments have included the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Fla.; the Mandalay Bay Hotel/Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada; the First Baptist Church mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas; the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.; the East Brook Middle School bus accident in Paramus, N.J.; and the Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Crisis Response Canines

Jefferson said there is no limit to how helpful therapy dogs can be in those types of critical traumatic experiences, and she would like to see therapy dogs used to benefit those suffering from addiction and those who have been affected by the opioid crisis.

Additional support and deployments can include active shooter presentations, autism/special needs programs, church programs, schools and universities, assisted living and senior living facilities, pediatric facilities, summer camps, trauma survivor programs and community outreach programs.

Hunt said although Rosie, Raisin, and Jefferson have not been deployed yet, he knows of significant efforts on their part to meet with and comfort military veterans.

“Therapy dogs have been around for a long time,” Hunt said. “We have received training, psychological and behavioral, so that we have a better understanding of what these people are going through and can better demonstrate the empathy and compassion needed. Our dogs are trained to enter these types of situations and often us being there helps people move on to the next steps. We often end up serving as a bridge to the next steps (of healing).”

Jefferson said as of October 2018, Crisis Response Canines, an all-volunteer-run organization and network, has officially been recognized as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit. The organization is looking for corporate sponsors and volunteers.

“We want more volunteers. We want to grow this thing,” Jefferson said.

Editor’s Note: Sadly, as we were going to press on Shore Monthly, we received the news that Raisin had died suddenly of a heart attack. She was 18 months old. The Shore Monthly team thanks Raisin for her service to the community and wishes Barb and Rusty Jefferson and Raisin peace in their time of grief. Condolences to Raisin’s family may be sent to sensor@chespub.com, and they will be shared with the Jeffersons.

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