Rudy, Chanel, and Lady deployed to El Paso on Sunday to comfort victims and first responders in the wake of the devastating mass shooting that took place the previous day, leaving 22 people dead and more than two dozen injured.
The three therapy dogs, flown to the border town by Methodist Healthcare System, have since helped more than 400 people deal with the traumatic event by providing “unconditional love and support.”
“The dogs have been spending time at different places in the community and have had the opportunity to meet with patients involved in the shooting, families whose loved ones were in the hospital. And after spending time with the dogs, they were smiling and laughing,” said Brandon Miller, Chanel’s handler. “And that’s the point: to give people hope in a time like this.”
The dogs are employed full time in San Antonio by Methodist Healthcare System, where they spend their workday at local hospitals, working with staff and first responders. “When the El Paso shooting happened, Methodist Healthcare sent them up there to continue this same type of work,” Miller said.
The trip to El Paso is the dogs’ first work assignment out of San Antonio, and according to their handlers, they are thriving, bringing their individual personalities to the mix as they travel around the city helping people cope.
Rudy’s handler, Lee Stanphill, describes him as “happy-go-lucky and super laid back” but says it’s almost as if the pooch has narcolepsy, as he “will never miss the opportunity to take a nap.”
Frankie Trifilio, who handles Lady, describes her as on the small side and very cute and says she “truly likes waking up and seeing a lot of people,” noting “it makes her entire day.”
Chanel, the “softest and fluffiest of the group,” is “good at finding people who are experiencing stress.”
“It’s kind of bizarre to see Chanel wanting to go up to people who are in distress or having a hard time, but it’s almost as if she knows right away. She has an outgoing personality and really puts a lot of love into her work,” Miller said.
The dogs received training to work as therapy animals through an organization called Service Dogs Inc. Their official title is emergency service facility dog.
Stanphill, Trifilio, and Miller are no strangers to this type of work themselves. All three are first responders and are used to working in high-stress situations around people who are upset or “just not having their best day.”
“We are able to take that experience and relate to the people here in El Paso in some form of fashion,” Miller said.
The dogs will be in El Paso at least until Friday, unless it seems like the community will continue to benefit from their presence, the handlers said.
“Everyone wants to do their part in a time like this, and this is kind of Methodist Healthcare’s and San Antonio’s way of rallying support and sending support to this community through the dogs,” Miller said.