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United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma K-9 Unit Gets Big Push
United Hatzalah’s crew of canines which operates throughout Israel just got a big push from a dog-loving donor who saw the importance of the unit’s work at traumatic medical emergencies. The unit, which has been active for the past six months and has been newly named the Sylvia and Max Shulman K-9 Unit, has just received a very large donation to the tune of $150,000. The unit currently consists of three dogs, one in the north, one in Jerusalem and one in the south. These animals and their handlers respond to calls regionally whenever and wherever they are needed.
“The K-9 unit supports the work of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit,” said Psychotrauma Unit Director Avi Tennenbaum. We have a small team right now in strategic places in Israel and each of the dogs respond in their region working where they are needed most. Thanks to the support of a generous donor, we are now able to expand this unit and provide more coverage and more care to the people who need it.”
United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit is now able to expand the K-9 project, which plays a significant role in providing emotional and psychological stabilization for people suffering emotional trauma due to experiencing a traumatic medical emergency.
“We have been looking to expand the K-9 Unit for some time now, and are overjoyed that we have found a donor who is interested in this project and wants to help us push it forward,” said Pyschotrauma and Crisis Response Unit Director Avi Tennenbaum.
The dogs have responded to building fires, searches for missing people, serious injuries, and major car accidents. “We look for the right type of situation where the dogs can add an extra level of care and treatment for the patients. Not all segments of Israel’s population react well when animals are near, so we are very careful as to which calls we send our dog unit members to. Our aim is always to make the patient feel more comfortable and empower them. In most cases, the dogs help us do that. They are brought in to assist in an emergency to help patients calm down, recover and cope with the incident that they just experienced,” Tennenbaum said.
The dogs and their handlers, usually their owners, undergo specialized training that enables the dogs to become therapy dogs. For one owner and handler, Batya Jaffe, who runs the K-9 unit, her course entailed an intensive three-year training course that enables her to train others to become therapy dogs and therapy dog handlers.
“One of the basic rules we learned in animal therapy is that animals don’t judge people. While some patients may be hesitant to talk with people, even therapists from our unit, that same hesitancy does not exist with Lucy, or with any of the dogs in our unit,” Jaffe said.
Over the next few months, the Psychotrauma Unit hopes to expand the number of dogs in service as well as the situations in which the dogs will be used. “One area in which we believe the dogs will be very useful in the future is with situational debriefings of our own volunteer responders who suffer trauma from witnessing the medical emergency that they responded to. EMS personnel are exposed to an incredible amount of trauma and one method we are employing to deal with that is by having debriefings. We believe that the dogs will be able to assist the first responders to process the incident that they just witnessed in a healthier manner.”
Here a who’s who of the current dog squad:
Lucy and Batya (Jerusalem/Center) – Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed known around the world for excelling as therapy dogs, is part of the Psychotrauma Unit in Jerusalem, working with her owner and psychotrauma volunteer Batya Jaffe. Lucy has been incredibly useful in many cases where breaking the ice and connecting with patients quickly was important.
Toffy and Ori (Tzefat/North) – Toffy, also a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, has gone through extensive training with her owner, Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Volunteer Ori Weiss. Weiss and Toffy live in the northern city of Tzefat (Safed) and have been responding to emergency calls that require an extra level of care for the past nine months.
Shekel and Netanel (Be’er Sheva/South) – Shekel is a mix between a cocker spaniel and a dachshund and has gone through training together with Netanel who is a licensed animal therapist. The pair have been volunteering in the Psychotrauma Unit for almost a year. Shekel’s most serious call occurred when he successfully brought a mother back to connectivity with the outside world after one of her children suddenly passed away. The mother had been in a state of shock so severe that she was completely unresponsive. Shekel went up to her and sat on her hands and slowly through connecting with the dog, the mother came back and began responding to her surroundings once again.