Grandma Calls on Therapy Dogs to Help Grand Children and Classmates Affected by the Saugus High School Mass Shooting
Santa Clarita, Calif., December 6, 2019— The tragic event at Saugus High School on November 14 had a profound effect on the community. And for Debbie Kendrick, it was perhaps the scariest day of her life. The Animal Behavior College Vice President’s two granddaughters were on campus the day of the shooting and fortunately were unharmed. However, the emotional toll on them and their classmates, as well as the entire Santa Clarita community have been heart-wrenching and traumatizing.
Debbie, a certified Animal Behavior College Dog Trainer (ABCDT) for more than 30 years, knew that therapy dogs provide many therapeutic benefits and could help the students and staff by providing them with emotional support and comfort. While the school was closed for two weeks, she and her daughter, Candace Mason, met with administrators and faculty and offered assistance. Grandma Debbie then contacted Pet Partners, a nonprofit therapy animal organization that deploys therapy dogs and other animals to improve human health through the human-animal bond.
When the school reopened on Monday, December 2, Debbie and a few ABC staff members joined Pet Partners volunteers, along with members of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and 20 therapy dogs. The therapy dog teams and volunteers were strategically positioned to welcome students as they arrived on campus. The goal was to replace the anxiety and distress the students would be feeling with the calmness and comfort from a therapy dog. It was a huge success as the volunteers watched many of the students’ apprehension turn to smiles and affectionate interactions.
“I’ve lived in this community for more than 40 years and am still stunned that something like this happened here,” Debbie said. “The outpouring of love and support has been beyond extraordinary. This tragedy has united us and made us stronger. And helping the students and faculty is essential to the healing process.”
The specially trained therapy dogs and their handlers quietly walked around the common areas, with several stationed around the quad area of the high school where the shooting took place. Some students sat and petted the dogs while others walked by, stopped, petted dogs briefly and walked away.
Studies have shown that petting dogs or other therapy animals during and after a crisis offers victims physical comfort. One study published on September 4, 2018, by a branch of the National Institutes of Health titled “Therapy Dogs as a Crisis Intervention After Traumatic Events? – An Experimental Study” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6132135/ concluded that therapy dogs help victims of trauma by reducing stress and anxiety symptoms. The canines help to decrease a person’s heart rate, blood pressure and enhance their sense of well-being. For individuals who do not want to be touched or to speak about their experience, petting a trained comfort animal helps them to cope.
“Dogs are amazing! They sense when a person is in pain, sad or sick. They are healers,” said Sandy Dubin of Pet Partners. Sandy brought her therapy dog, Duchess, a 95-pound Black Russian Terrier.
“Something I heard from a student that will always stay with me was a comment he made about the dogs being on campus,” she recalled, her voice quivered. “He said, ‘The dogs don’t ask any questions.’ This statement was so powerful to me because the dogs just let them be. They give them space that allows them to heal with no conditions, expectations or demands.”
As of November 19, 2019, there were 45 school shootings in the U.S. – 32 took place at schools that served students from Kindergarten through 12th grade, according to CNN.com (https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/15/us/2019-us-school-shootings-trnd/index.html). Earlier this week, two school shootings took place in Wisconsin. Although there is much debate on what qualifies as a school shooting, the aftermath is clear: students are left traumatized, communities struggle to find answers and solutions and, heal.
“The healing process is ongoing, and we know that things will never quite be the same,” Debbie said. “However, we are Saugus Strong [referring to the blue and white posters with these words and blue ribbons posted at the school and throughout the community]. We are here for the long-term and will do whatever it takes to help. Supporting each other is what being a community member is all about.”
Saugus High School is located approximately 8 miles from Animal Behavior College’s campus.
About Animal Behavior College
Founded in 1998, Animal Behavior College is a vocational school that trains professional dog trainers, cat trainers, veterinary assistants, pet groomers and aquarium maintenance providers nationwide and in the 10 provinces of Canada. ABC has graduated more than 29,100 students from four of its five core programs combined. Students obtain practical hands-on experience applying what they learn by working side-by-side with a member of ABC’s expert mentors group. These mentors include thousands of professional dog trainers, veterinary hospitals and clinics and grooming salons from across the U.S. and Canada who are dedicated to helping students succeed in the pet services industry.