Thursday, July 18, 2024

HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response Training In Williamsburg

Liz and Abby (on the left) with Donna and Zuzu (on the right) taking a practice run on the WATA bus. (photo: Liz Erfe-Howard)

WILLIAMSBURG — HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response (AACR) Training Weekend will occur June 21 through 23 in Williamsburg and James City County.

The weekend will see 23 canine teams, with five team lead supporters, participating in activities that include exercises with the Marine division of the James City County Fire Department as well as Virginia Commonwealth University Flight Evac, visits with the Williamsburg Fire Department and exercises on Duke of Gloucester Street.

A variety of dogs, of all sizes, from teams across the North East region will take part over the weekend.

The goal of the training is to desensitize the canines to common sights, sounds, and smells they may encounter at crisis scenes.

Liz Erfe-Howard, a Williamsburg resident and HOPE volunteer who set up the session said, “We will be clearly recognizable in our uniform. We wear an evergreen shirt with the HOPE logo and our dogs will all have vests. Part of the training on DoG Street is exposing our canines to a bunch of different smells, the carriages, the noises such as cannon fire or if the fife and drum plays.”

Started in 1999, the all-volunteer nonprofit organization provides comfort and encouragement to individuals affected by crises and disasters through animal-assisted support.

(photo: Liz Erfe-Howard)

The organization has deployed teams to crisis and disaster situations such as 9/11 and school shootings — going wherever they are called to provide support and comfort.

The group differs from Animal-Assisted Activities or Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAA/T) teams. AAA/T teams provide companionship, comfort, socialization, mental stimulation, and appropriate physical touch to people in need. Many of those teams visit hospitals, schools, long-term care and other such facilities as a ‘meet and greet.’ There are no goals set, other than to give people an opportunity to interact with the animal.

According to the organization’s webpage, AACR is a unique kind of Animal-Assisted Intervention. Teams must be experienced in AAA/T first before working in AACR. Teams are screened and trained to respond in more intense emotional and environmental situations.

HOPE AACR-certified teams are required to go through specialized training such as crisis intervention skills (emotional first aid), animal behavior and stress management, critical incident stress management, incident command system training, first aid and CPR, and pet first aid.

(photo: Liz Erfe-Howard)

Erfe-Howard with her dog, Abby were certified for therapy dog work for two years before applying to become a HOPE AACR. The process involved an application process and screening — that included handler interviews and reviewing Abby’s temperament and command skills — before becoming accepted for an intensive training program.

“It was stressful!” exclaimed Erfe-Howard.

The weekend training agenda includes visits to Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg Community Building, Williamsburg Fire Station, James City County Marina and the Jamestown Beach Event Park.

“These dogs are specialty trained to handle crises. That is why this training occurs every year. We have to be exposed to a whole bunch of things that a regular therapy dog may not be. The dogs have to learn to maneuver through a variety of situations,” stated Erfe-Howard.

Watch this video to learn more, or visit the HOPE webpage.

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