AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - A local nonprofit is sharing some puppy love with first responders in El Paso following Saturday's deadly mass shooting. Service Dogs, Inc. trained three emergency services facility dogs sent to Del Sol Medical Center to comfort those on the front lines of the tragedy.
"They're helping everybody through one of the most difficult times any of us has ever experienced," said Sheri Soltes, founder and president of Service Dogs, Inc.
Service Dogs, Inc. trained three emergency services facility dogs to help first responders cope with all the stress, grief and trauma that's part of their daily job. "It's just a way that they can have something that's listening to them, without judging, and get some unconditional love," Soltes said.
The dogs usually work with Methodist Healthcare System in San Antonio. "So those dogs help comfort 10,000 employees; nurses, doctors, paramedics, firefighters, just all of our first responders and emergency services personnel," said Soltes.
For more than three decades, Service Dogs, Inc. has been training pups free of charge for people who are hearing impaired or have mobile disabilities.
"They pick up things they drop, open and close doors, even open a refrigerator," Soltes said.
The idea to add emergency services facility dogs to the pack started with a conversation. "We were approached by a fire department battalion chief, and he told us that first responders' rate of suicide is approaching that of veterans. It's gone up to one a day," said Soltes.
Sunday, Lady, Rudy and Chanel set off on a special mission. "These are the dogs that were deployed with their handlers to El Paso pre-dawn on Sunday morning," Soltes said.
They've been licking the invisible wounds of nurses and first responders all week.
"We heard about paramedics who came into work, didn't really want to talk to anybody, just staring off into space. Once the dog shows up, the paramedic starts petting the dog, you see one tear go by, and then they say, ‘I really needed this today,'" said Soltes.
The pups work around the clock to heal the healers, so they can focus on saving lives. "We can capture the dogs unconditional love and use it to kind of offer a bridge back to mental health and emotional recovery for these people," Soltes said.
It costs about $50,000 to train each dog at Service Dogs, Inc. and they couldn't do it without help from the community. To donate visit their website: https://www.servicedogs.org/