Crisis dogs bring comfort to Buffalo first responders after mass shooting

A group of certified crisis counselors and specially-trained dogs traveled to Buffalo, New York, this week to offer support and comfort to those impacted by the mass shooting at a supermarket, in which 10 people were killed and three others were injured. 

The Tri-State Canine Response Team, based almost 400 miles away in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, arrived in Buffalo on Monday with five crisis response handlers and dogs to stay through Friday, "with the possibility of staying longer as needed." Four of the teams traveled from New Jersey, while one team came north from Florida. 

The nonprofit, all-volunteer team aims to offer comfort to those suffering from a personal condition or crisis in the community by "utilizing the human-canine bond and its power to heal." Its work is supported by community donations

In Buffalo, grief, shock, and anger have plagued the community after a White, 18-year-old gunman entered a Tops Friendly Market on Saturday and started shooting with a rifle, killing 10 Black people and wounding three other victims. A document circulated widely online seemingly outlined the suspect’s racist, anti-immigrant and antisemitic beliefs. Among them was a desire to drive all people not of European descent from the U.S., officials said.

The response teams on Tuesday visited and counseled supermarket employees who knew the victims. They later visited 911 call center operators who welcomed the dogs "with open arms," the Tri-State K-9 Crisis Response Team said in a Facebook post. 

"One person who was not working that day felt that she should have been there. One woman who has 5 ½ months to go before retirement has started meditating and takes comfort in her grandchildren. One woman whose job it is to collate all of the recordings of all of the calls that come in that have legal implications has to listen to all of the recordings as she is doing her job. The hardest moment for her was taking the call from the wife of the guard who was killed as she was trying to find out the status of her husband," the team wrote in the Facebook post. 

It added: "The work that the call takers and dispatchers do is emotionally hard work that is often overlooked."

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Members of the Tri-State Canine Response Team are pictured resting in Buffalo, New York, on May 16, 2022. (Credit: Tri-State Canine Response Team)

Their visit came on the same day as President Joe Biden, who mourned with grieving families and warned that the nation must not be distorted by a "hateful minority." The team also spent time at a memorial site set up outside the Tops supermarket, and later attended a community vigil — meeting with hundreds of community members. 

"They shared their personal stories and thanked us for coming... One community member remarked that she was glad that President Biden had come and felt that his remarks were ‘uplifting.’ A woman did a prayer dance with Diego in thanks for our service. This woman knew every person who was killed. Even in her deepest grief, she was able to express her thanks for the support that she was receiving," the team wrote. 

The Tri-State Canine Response Team does local visits to hospitals, schools, behavioral health units and libraries in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Florida, according to its website, which features dozens of its support animals

In the past, teams have also deployed to Orlando, Florida, following the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, Las Vegas after a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in 2017, Parkland, Florida, in 2018 after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting left 17 dead, and Boulder, Colorado, where another gunman entered a grocery store and started shooting.

On day two of deployment to Buffalo, the response team concluded: "We all felt a great deal of warmth from this grieving community. It was especially fulfilling to see the smiles on the innocent children’s faces when they saw and interacted with our dogs."

This story was reported from Cincinnati.