|MINNESOTA THERAPY ANIMALS
AACR (Animal Assisted Crisis Response)
It's with mixed emotions that we recall the collapse of the I35W
bridge and yet time continues marching on..... Families and
friends of the bridge fatalities moving ahead, and becoming the
living legacy of their loved ones. The respective
agencies/responders stepping back, differently or better in the
future. Our local media keeps us abreast of the contractors
commerce, commuters and be known as the bridge that will
never falter again. Yes, life does go on. One little known aspect
was the presence of the six therapy animals teams with the
approval of Jeff Stewart, the head of the Minneapolis Chaplain
For a period of a week, in alternating shifts they were quietly
available to families and to the staff working tirelessly as others
worked to recover family members, and to address the needs of
the families that had so suddenly been thrust into a period of
Research for this feature uncovered that previously there had
been one other AACR (Animal Assisted Crisis Responder)
team in the state of Minnesota, but attrition naturally does occur.
At the time of the collapse there were none. Since then, one
certified team has evolved.
The following (Q & A) interview is intended to be informative and
perhaps to plant a seed for your future.
One year later....
|Interview with AACR (Animal Assisted Canine
Responder) Dave Kettering
utilized in a variety of crisis situations. I didn't figure how to do it until I was called. As volunteers we
did our job but I felt it could have been done better. Personally I was unsure of our role and what
expectations could have been. Keeping in mind this was a new frontier for everyone, I felt that the
incident response team did not know how to use us, thus I thought there were areas for
improvement and I wanted to do better next time.
Q- In the future, do you foresee, the AACR teams becoming incorporated into the Emergency
Preparedness Plan for the metropolitan area?
A - I sure hope so. Response from the first responders at the 35W bridge would indicate so as
would the limited use, but strong desire from Hugo tornado disaster families. More organizations
are recognizing the benefits and it is becoming the standard to have the teams. For example the
Northern Illinois University was encouraged to have crisis teams by Virginia Tech. The Iowa floods
this summer asked for teams because of the experience of the volunteers who were part of the
Q- During the course of this past year, you have been on call-outs to (Northern Illinois University,
site of campus shooting) and more recently to Hugo, MN, area of a devastating tornado. Without
the comprehensive training you pursued, would you have felt prepared in dealing with these
A - No, and for two reasons. First the AACR training on dealing with people in crisis situation I found
to be very helpful. But as important, is the support network that goes with the crisis responding
teams. You have a team leader for every four teams who is responsible for on site coordination.
Also there is an overall leader who coordinates with the other entities that are involved with the crisis.
Thus, there is a lot of support. Without the training and AACR you would not receive the support.
Q- Share with our readers the "screening" process of teams interested in training.
A- Basic screening is to be an experienced animal therapy team. At the AACR training you are
under constant evaluation the entire four days. The evaluators are watching both the dog and the
handler on everything from cleanliness to dispositions to responses to different events. The training
also included role-play where volunteers play different roles in a simulated disaster.
Q- The training incorporated what areas/topics to prepare you and your partner?
A - Broad areas of training included animal behavior, animal stress management, mental health,
working within AACR structure, working with other crisis response organizations, and practice of
everything you learned plus extras... such as firemen in full gear and boarding an airplane.
Q - No one foresees tragic events such as the one in Illinois or Iowa, but did it surprise you that
call-outs would occur so soon?
A- No, I expect that call outs are a function of knowing what the teams can accomplish and who to
call. AACR teams are becoming the "norm" in established regions of the country. For example in
Washington and Oregon AACR are at most Red Cross functions.
Q- The AACR teams are few in the Midwest. The eastern and western states are numbered at
about half a dozen each, and have called upon teams from other states when needed. With the
knowledge that MN would benefit from additional teams, would you identify what you perceived
to be a good candidate for this type of endeavor..... Handler and canine.
A- First, I'm learning, so I may give a different answer next year than now. It is important to
understand that the handler is trained and certified to offer emotional trauma response to individuals
involved in a disaster or crisis situation. Therefore, the handler needs to be mature, patient,
understanding and a good listener. The canine team member needs to be experienced and
Q- Dave, this page has a link to a document reflecting the comparison between AAA/AAT and
AACR. The one issue it does not really address is cost the individual might incur to secure
training, time, and the out-of-pocket expenses on a call-out. Your experience to date has been?
Also, any other comments about the comparison chart you feel a prospective team might like to
A- Out of pocket costs are an issue. Right now there is no identified source to pay a team's costs.
On the other hand, the communities have been very supportive in paying a good portion of the
costs. For example at Northern Illinois, I paid travel costs and the school provided room and board.
At the Iowa flood, volunteers were housed in families homes. Hurricane Katrina Crisis team
volunteers and their dogs stayed in various crisis locations such as school gyms.
There are two other major differences between AAA/AAT and AACR. The first is AACR teams have
team leaders who have the responsibility to provide direction and support to the individual teams.
Where AAA/AAT is usually under the direction of a facilities staff that may or may not know what to
expect from teams.
Finally, the biggest difference is the fact that at AACR call outs there is behavior health support for
the handlers. This is accomplished through daily debriefings, plus a complete debriefing at the end
of the assignment.
Q- Dave, we often talk about the benefits received by the "client" who maybe a patient, student,
resident, etc., but now that you've added AACR to the venue of your activities, how has it
benefited you personally? Close to the heart, but know you have something to share.
A- From an intellectual point, I have to keep up my first aid, pet first aid and CPR class work, learn
about FEMA and update on their basic operating procedures. I need to participate in a minimum of
10 hours a year in crisis training.
From dog's standpoint, I have learned more "dog stuff", plus see Sasha work in a different
From the heart.... I have had the opportunity to meet and provide support to people that I would have
never met. To see a person smile who had not smiled for two weeks after the school shooting, or
know that a person who was having major sleeping problems have a good nights sleep, or have a
counselor thank you for reducing her stress levels means a lot to a guy like me.
|To the 35W Canine Responders....
Dave and partner, Sasha