WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Members of an animal-assisted crisis response group are lending hands and paws at the Washington Navy Yard this week.

Workers there are getting some much needed comfort from the all-volunteer nonprofit HOPE AACR, which is based in Oregon, but has branches all over the U.S.

HOPE dogs and their handlers have responded in the aftermath of tragedies like Hurricane Sandy and the Virginia Tech massacre, as well.

Amy Rideout, a member of HOPE AACR’s board of directors, says HOPE dogs go through about a year’s worth of work at the local level. If they meet certain aptitude and personality requirements, they attend a three-day certification workshop where they more specific crisis response training.

“So much of what we do and say during the recovery process is about significant loss and the serious business of getting the organization back to mission-ready status,” Rideout says. “The presence of a comfort dog provides an opportunity to unplug from all that and take a deep breath.”

Related: Navy Yard Employees Get Counseling

Janet Velenovsky, HOPE’s eastern region director, tells WNEW’s Kevin Patrick that canines have a certain intuition about human emotion.

“The dogs will just worm their way up and illicit a smile from someone who’s having a rough day,” she says.

Ned Polan, a HOPE AACR volunteer, says a dog can make “an incredible difference” in someone’s mood, or be a furry, non-judgemental shoulder to cry on.

Whether it’s done through a smile or cathartic tears, “making anyone feel a little bit better is what we’re here for,” Polan said.

“Anything that we can do, we want to do,” Velenovsky added.

She had a chuckle about one Navy Yard worker’s response to their presence this week.

Someone this week told her: “It’s kind of like there’s always room for Jello; there’s always time for dogs.”

The HOPE team has been at the Navy Yard since Monday and will stay through Friday.

WNEW’s Kevin Patrick contributed to this report. Follow him and WNEW on Twitter.


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