Miami-Dade’s therapy dogs are providing comfort to victims’ families.

Bowser has a black and tan coat, weighs 80 pounds and loves being outdoors.

And since Saturday morning, the German Sheperd mix has taken on an important role as the search and rescue efforts for victims in the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condos in Surfside, Fla., continue: comforting their loved ones.

Bowser is one of a half dozen therapy dogs from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue working rotating shifts at the family reunification center at the Grand Beach Hotel, just blocks away from the scene of the collapse, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue firefighter Robert Wells, who is Bowser’s owner. The Miami-Dade Police Department also supplied at least one therapy dog as well.

Bowser, who is 5, arrived at the reunification center at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Some people embraced him. Some took photos with him.

“He’s breaking the monotony of the pain that they are suffering,” Mr. Wells said. “It’s exhilarating to see that. Usually, they’ll thank me.”

Animal-assisted therapy is an increasingly popular treatment for crisis victims and those suffering from post-traumautic stress disorder after traumatic events. The use of therapy dogs like Bowser is directly linked to reduced levels of stress and anxiety, according to one study.

Therapy animals were used in children’s hospitals as Covid-19 decreased the number of visitors. And they are often brought to medical centers to the immediate aftermath of mass shootings, comforting survivors.

Bowser, who is well-behaved and social, went through intensive training that involved proctored observations and obedience training. And the training doesn’t stop, either — he is currently working to receive national certification to become a critical incident stress dog, which means he could be sent out of state to help intervene in emergency situations elsewhere.

“If we can help bring a smile to someone’s face and give them a little relief through this crisis, then it’s all worth it,” Mr. Wells said. “It really is.”






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