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Sisters therapy dog helps comfort in trying times

By Kandra Kent
Published On: Dec 19 2012 10:14:59 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 20 2012 03:12:22 PM CST

NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent visits a therapy dog and his owner in Sisters to see how the animals help offer comfort.

SISTERS, Ore. -

A small army has been deployed to Connecticut -- not to investigate, not to interview -- but simply to bring a smile to so many tear-stained faces.

"They have a sensitivity that we don't have as humans -- they can tell by instincts," Sisters resident Dale Coats said Wednesday.

Coats is certified with a group in Central Oregon that responds to crisis in schools.

Therapy dogs from all over the country have arrived in Connecticut to support people after the tragic school shooting last Friday.

And right here in Central Oregon, we have Buddy, a 7-year-old golden retriever with a grizzled face and soft fur that has dried many tears.

Coats is Buddy's owner and a grief counselor with the Tri-County Response Team.

"When the kids see the dog they go, 'Oh!' and they gravitate towards it, because they see a friendly, fuzzy creature.," Coats said.

Coats says therapy dogs are becoming more popular as a wonderful, simple way to comfort people during the toughest of times.

He remembers how Buddy helped one Central Oregon student grieving over a friend who committed suicide.

"(He would sit) and just pet it and pet it, and have the dog put his head in his lap, and be someone there for him," Coats said. "For maybe somebody who doesn't want a lecture, maybe doesn't want anybody to ask questions, but has a source of unconditional love, and a lot of times he's more of a comfort than we can be."

Buddy and other therapy dogs also often serve as a bridge, getting hurting people to open up to counselors.

"They start smiling -- pretty soon, they hug on him and cry on him," he said.

Coats is glad to see therapy dogs helping to heal lives in Connecticut. And he hopes they will be used more often as a first step to help people struggling with their own internal troubles.

"Just like the shooting that recently happened," he said. "If that person would have gotten the right kind of counseling, maybe the story would be different. We don't know."

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