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March 28, 2014 at 2:30 PM

Therapy dogs give comfort, raise spirits in aftermath of mudslide

Pongo, a therapy and crisis-response dog, is bringing some comfort to and raising a few smiles for the people dealing with the massive mudslide in Snohomish County. (Photo by Hal Bernton / The Seattle Times)

Pongo, a therapy and crisis-response dog, is bringing some comfort to and raising a few smiles for the people dealing with the massive mudslide in Snohomish County. (Photo by Hal Bernton / The Seattle Times)

Pongo is a 9-year-old black Labrador retriever with graying eyebrows who favors belly rubs

He was going to be a guide dog but never quite made it through the program, ending up as a therapy and crisis-response dog.

Through these awful days in Darrington, the town east of the slide, Pongo has been doing a standout job, being stroked, cuddled and hugged by residents of all ages.

“The importance is to bring some comfort to the people who are growing through this crisis,’ said Chris Monroe, his owner. “Whether that’s kids, family members, first responders …”

As many as five of these dogs have been on scene this week. The dogs have worked with response teams on both the Darrington and Arlington sides of the slide.

Some searchers have time with the dogs as they struggle to cope with what they find at the mudslide site. The stress lines on their faces ease just a bit and they smile briefly.

They “say thank you, we appreciate it, and go back out,” said Nathan Ray, of the Green Cross Academy of Traumatology and a member of a crisis-response team.

Another Green Cross official, Mary Schoenfeldt, of Marysville, spoke to reporters in Arlington today about working with the community to deal with the usual cycle of shock, anger and denial that follows a major traumatic event.

Schoenfeldt, who has previously worked with people after the mass school shooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., and the flooding from Hurricane Katrina, said, “I never expected to do that within my own community. I usually get on an airplane and go somewhere else to do this kind of work.”

As with other places, people living in the communities surrounding the mudslide are trying to make sense of “the senseless,” she said.

Part of the work has involved going into local schools, Schoenfeldt said.

People are doing as well as can be expected, she said, while adding, “It’s a very long road.”

As the days go by, some people look for  a “scapegoat” to direct their anger, so they can say to themselves this wouldn’t have happened otherwise, Schoenfeldt said.

“It  is very much a part of the process,” she said, noting that “anger and frustration is starting to rise.”

Joining her was a Raquel Lackey, of Hope Animal Assisted Correspondence, who brought her therapy and crisis-response dog, “Pickles,” an English Labrador retriever.

Such dogs act as “a bridge” to help draw out people in emotional crisis, Lackey said.

Comments | More in General news, The Blotter | Topics: comfort, mudslide, Oso mudslide

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