LA FERIA — With a cap held by its fluffy ears, Rebel stands up and greets flood victims who need a dose of loving.
Rebel is a Golden Retriever trained to respond when duty calls.
The dog and his owner, Jeanne Hooke, traveled down from League City and La Porte to the Rio Grande Valley for two days earlier this week to comfort families that are visiting the disaster recovery centers in Raymondville, La Villa and La Feria. The centers were opened after the extensive flooding that occurred in the wake of storms in June.
Rebel was accompanied by Gus, another response crisis dog, and Grace, the only female in the trio. This is the first time Grace has been deployed.
The dogs are part of an organization called HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, which brings dogs to crisis environments to provide support and a positive distraction to those stressed and in despair.
Sally Farley, one of the trainers, has been with HOPE for a year.
“FEMA contacted our general director and asked if we could visit the disaster recovery centers down here,” Farley said.
“We only go where we are asked to. We are here to boost up the employees who are probably missing their dogs and their families, and they get to love on a dog that will allow it,” Farley said.
In order to be a crisis assistance dog, the dog needs to have a calm personality and be well mannered, as well as allow strangers to pet it.
Nancy Steger, owner of Gus, said all the dogs are friends, and they have had a great time while visiting.
“They bring smiles to everybody and it makes everyone feel better,” Farley said.
“When you pet a dog it reduces your blood pressure and it releases serotonin and dopamine in your brain, and everyone that comes toward them is already smiling,” she said.
Samantha Sanchez, 8, and her sister Alondra Sanchez, 15, enjoyed petting Rebel, Grace and Gus while their dad was receiving assistance from FEMA.
“We liked petting the dogs. We have some at home. We have three Chihuahuas: Duke, Guero and Pinuno,” Alondra said.
What you should know
• HOPE works with school districts, hospitals, pastoral services and other community institutions.
• Certified handlers, partnered with their dogs, are specially trained to provide comfort and support to people who have experienced a recent crisis, disaster or difficult loss.
• HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response has been working in emergency response since 2001.
• HOPE teams only go on-site when they have been deployed by a lead emergency response agency.
• HOPE teams go through training in skills such as psychological first aid and incident command.
• To learn more, visit www.hopeaacr.org