A Boston Marathon Therapy Dog Story

| May 9, 2013 | 1 Comment
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Kestrel The Black Labrador

Kestrel – UCD URO2 ARCHMX3 Burri’s Celestial Kestrel, CD,RE, NA,NF,NAP,NJP,CD-C,FFX-AG, TDI,CGC, CC

Not many will forget the horrible events that took place at 2:50PM Monday April 15, 2013. Words fail to describe the horror of bombing the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In past years, I have been in that exact spot, cheering on runners, some years even selling Girl Scout cookies to waiting families and fans. I was born in New York but Boston is my chosen city. I moved to New England in 1979, and never looked back. For me, this was personal, and I wanted to help. Two days later, I saw on Facebook that TDI, Therapy Dogs International was looking for dog and handler teams to help bring comfort and compassion to the people of Boston. I shot off an email, knowing Kestrel and I would be up to the task. I have three TDI certified therapy dogs, all Labrador Retrievers. Hawke age 13 mostly does library reading dog work, Kestrel, 10, who visits an assisted living and an Alzheimer unit, and Merlin, 7, who does some library work and some college comfort at exam times.

Kestrel and I were to be deployed on Friday April 19th, to go to Boston Athletic Association headquarters to meet and greet folks picking up runner’s gear and bags, and to be a comfort to Boston Marathon staff. Well, the visit of the 19th did not happen as Boston and surrounds were put on shelter in place directions as the enormous manhunt for the suspects was taking place.

We got the call again, could we come in on Monday April 22nd, to work a shift at the memorial at the corner of Berkeley and Boylston streets. A memorial had been forming at the barriers there, as the area of the finish line was blocked off as a crime scene. Kestrel and I headed into town.

Kestrel is not a city dog, she has lived her whole life in suburban New Hampshire, and aside from trips to school, nursing homes and dog shows, she’s never been in the big city. She enjoyed everything from the crowds to the interesting sidewalks, even the parking garage. Nothing fazes Kestrel.

We got to the memorial; there were hundreds of people on the corner of Boylston and Berkeley Streets. Boylston was closed off with barriers, and there were news trucks lining Berkeley Street. Two other teams were there, the Golden Retrievers Liberty and Independence. People would come up and pat the dogs, some got on the ground to hug them up close. Some people smiled at the happy wagging enthusiasm Kestrel brought to the task. Some people just misted up and patted the dogs.

In the two-hour shift, we must have interacted with 200-300 people. Kestrel now graces the photo icon of dozens of iPhones, and Androids. Many, many pictures were taken, of the dogs, with the dogs. The crowd was incredibly diverse, working folks out on lunch break, people who had come in especially to pay their respects, school groups who were in Boston for other reasons who came by to honor the victims.

Complete strangers would touch us on the shoulder and say “Thank you for just being here”, or “Thank you for caring”. One fellow got out of one of the news trucks and came over, sat down on the sidewalk and hugged Kestrel tight for a few minutes. He stood up, dusted off his pants and said, “Thanks, I needed that!” and went back in his truck. One young man said “Thank you m’am, your dog is doing yeoman’s service”. Many reporters interviewed us, and videographers took many, many minutes of footage of the dogs. Kestrel did end up on WMUR TV on the 5pm news. All three dogs did a great job representing the best that therapy dogs have to offer, unconditional love and compassion.

Our post bombing work continued with two visits to Middlesex Community College. The school had reached out to TDI for dogs for their Bedford and Lowell Campuses. In reading the college’s blog, I learned they had students, alumni, and family of students physically affected by the bombings, as well as both student and staff runners who were turned back at Mile 25. Kestrel again was the happy waggy little lab she always is and brought many smiles to students and staff on both visits.

Therapy dog work is not for every dog. It is tiring, emotionally demanding, and exhausting for the dog. Kestrel snored the whole way home after every visit. I was so proud of her, to work so well in a huge crowd in a big city without any issues at all. Sirens, helicopters, news trucks, videographers, and 100’s of strangers and she approached it all with a wag and a grin. At the college, I was so pleased with how well she worked with a diverse mix of students and faculty, for long shifts, never tiring or stopping wagging. I am honored that we were able to play a small role in helping folks heal from this terrible event.

We are ONE Boston!

Category : Dogs With Jobs

About the Author ()

UCD URO2 ARCHMX3 Burri's Celestial Kestrel, CD,RE, NA,NF,NAP,NJP,CD-C,FFX-AG, TDI,CGC, CC And Barb Burri, MBA, MEd, CVT, LVT, CPDT-KA - Barb is a licensed veterinary technician who works for the Veterinary Information Network and is Adjunct faculty at Great Bay Community College. She is a UKC and APDT Rally Judge, a CDSP Obedience judge, and does therapy dog work and competes with her three Labradors in agilty, obedience, rally and hunt tests.

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  1. Margo Whitlock says:

    Proud to know you and the Raptor Labs. You, Hawke, Merlin and the effervescent Kestrel do great work!!!

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