HENRYVILLE, Ind. – Among the piles of splintered wood, shingles and shards of glass are survivors, First responders, firefighters, police and a dog with a green vest. They are sifting through the rubble looking for heirlooms, photographs and what items are still in one piece. Wait a minute – a dog with a green vest, what’s that canine doing there?

The dog’s name is Charlie and his master, Gayle Sprinkle of Indianapolis, is right by his side. However, they are not sifting through this horrific scene of destruction. They are a certified Animal Assisted Crisis Response (AACR) team known as HOPE AACR deployed to a devastated Henryville the weekend of May 9-10. Charlie is a specially trained therapy dog.

Only a few hours earlier Charlie and Gayle Sprinkle knelt at Epworth United Methodist Church, her home church in Indianapolis, to be anointed with oil, blessed and prayed over by Epworth Pastor Bill Hoopes, with members of the congregation and preschool children participating.

The mission of AACR is “to harness the power of the human-animal bond to provide support and inspire hope in civilians and responders impacted by trauma, crisis and disaster…. breaking down barriers and building bridges.”

AACR teams are not rushed in to a crises/traumatic site immediately. First responders, law enforcement, medical assistance, Red Cross and Early Response Teams have already been on site for several days before the AACR teams are sent in. That is when the services of this team are most effective and are most needed.

Charlie will permit an individual to touch, stroke, cuddle and embrace. He receives commands from Gayle. He knows when he is to be a therapy dog and when it is okay to play. A friendly touch, a sympathetic ear or just a calming presence can make a huge difference to disaster survivors.

Charlie and Sprinkle also are on the AAA/T team. This is Pet Therapy. These are scheduled visits which may be in a hospital, school, long-term care and other such facilities. There is no specific goal set other than for people have an opportunity to interact with the animal. This is called Animal-Assisted Activities. (AAA) There may be times a team would work with a professional who directs the team in their interaction with an individual. In this case, goals may be set for the client and progress monitored by the team. This is called Animal-Assisted Therapy.

For more information, visit http://animalassistedcrisis.ipage.com or contact Linda Hoopes at lindahoopesphoto_art@yahoo.com.

Breaking down barriers and building bridges.

Pastor Bill Hoopes blesses Charlie hours before he leaves for Henryville.