United Hatzalah Expands Psychotrauma and Crisis Response K-9 Unit

A new volunteer has joined the ranks of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, only this one has four legs. Toffy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed known around the world for excelling as therapy dogs, has gone through extensive training with her owner, Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Volunteer Ori Weiss, to become certified as a therapy dog and inducted into the organization’s unit.

Weiss and Toffy live in the northern city of Tzefat (Safed) and will be tasked with providing emotional and psychological stabilization to anyone suffering from emotional or psychological stress or trauma in their vicinity. The new volunteer pairing could not have chosen a better time to begin their work, as many people, mainly children, have been suffering emotional side-effects from the continuing tremors that are currently affecting Israel’s north.

Weiss joined United Hatzalah originally as a volunteer EMT and also works as a therapist who specializes in treating people via animal therapy. He and Toffy work together daily treating people professionally at his clinic. “The patients simply love working with Toffy,” Weiss said. “Toffy returns the affection and love that they show him and thus a bond is formed quickly that allows the patient to open up.”

Weiss added that having animals assist in therapy has extra benefits. “The benefits of therapy involving animals is that the patient feels no judgment, only acceptance of their current state without any preconditions. By nature, humans are judgemental. Therefore, a patient who struggles with creating a connection or trusting another person can more easily connect with an animal. This allows the initial stages of therapy to be easier and the patient can approach the therapy with a stronger sense of personal security.”

United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit already recognized these benefits and has a dog, Lucy, also a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, as part of the Psychotrauma Unit in Jerusalem, working with volunteer Batya Jaffe. “Lucy has been incredibly useful in many cases where breaking the ice and connecting with patients quickly was important,” said Unit Director Miriam Ballin. “We have been looking to expand the K-9 Unit for some time now, and are overjoyed that Toffy and Ori are going to begin assisting the people in the north of Israel, especially now with all of the earthquakes and aftershocks that people are experiencing there.”

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