a hug to a WTC emergency worker as handler Cindy
Ehlers, left, explains the benefits of dog therapy.
Tikva, a 2-year-old Keeshound, and Kate, a three-year-old
yellow Labrador retriever, are part of the Hope Crisis and
Response Team working with the American Red Cross to help
bring emotional support to thousands of people affected by the
Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Supported
by the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to
improving human health through service and therapy animals,”
Tikva and Kate are two of four dogs working in New York City
with their handlers.
Cindy Ehlers, 43, from Eugene, Ore., heads up the Hope
Crisis and Response Team. Ehlers started working with a
therapy dog in May of 1998 after the deadly shooting by a
student of Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. She
and her Keeshound, named Bear, who has since passed away, made
weekly visits for a year to help the community recover from
share their lunch and a few laughs with Tikva and Kate
at a Red Cross respite center.
On their first visit, Cindy and Bear went into the library
at Thurston High. “She worked without a leash and mingled
among many, many crying students,” Ehlers said, “but she
stayed with the five students that none of the counselors
seemed to be able to reach. They were too withdrawn.” Ehlers
explained that traumatized people emit a scent that dogs
immediately pick up on. She said they can smell fear and
distress, and that Bear knew these students weren’t coping
as well as the others.
“She followed the same pattern with each student -
she’d go sit next to them, wiggle a bit, make a funny noise,
move closer to them, and then make and hold eye contact,”
Ehlers said. “Once she made eye contact, they’d open up.
Bear nestled up against one girl, who turned, looked into her
eyes and immediately grabbed her around the neck in a hug and
Ehlers’ partner in New York is Tikva (pronounced
and she and yellow lab Kate provide comfort and a much-needed
release for grieving people affected by the Sept. 11 attack.
The city of New York arranged for a boat to transport
families along with Red Cross grief and spiritual counselors
to the wreckage of the World Trade Center as a way to provide
the families with some closure by enabling them to witness the
scene with their own eyes. The boat departs from the Family
Assistance Center, established by Major Guilliani on Pier 94
overlooking the Hudson River, and drops the families a few
blocks from ground zero.
Ehlers, Tikva’s handler, and Pat Dickenson, Kate’s
handler, have boarded the boat with their dogs to adopt a
family to comfort for the journey. Once aboard, both women
said that either the dogs adopt the families or the families
adopt the dogs. The handlers simply stand back and let it
“On each boat there are between 50 and 70 people, and I
usually play it by ear to see what happens,” Ehlers said.
“Yesterday we were walking down the aisle when a woman
reached down and grabbed Tikva. She buried her face in her fur
and started crying.”
The woman’s husband, who worked in the World Trade
Center, had once surprised the family with a Merle Collie,
which is bluish gray and looks very much like a Keeshound.
“He loved dogs,” she said, asking the name of Ehler’s
dog. When Ehller’s told her it was Tikva, she gasped,
“That means hope. I’m Jewish, and Tikva is Hebrew for
hope.” Ehlers said that the woman was convinced that Tikva
had traveled all the way from Oregon to help her deal with the
tragedy and bring her hope that she would be able to come to
terms with what happened.
furry Keeshound, and Kate, the friendly yellow lab,
work long days to lift spirits at Ground Zero.
Down at ground zero, where dust swirls, generators drone
and the clang of metal against concrete rings in the air, the
mood is somber and the work is painstaking and grueling.
Hundreds of workers take breaks at Red Cross respite centers,
where they can sit down with a cup of fresh coffee or a plate
of hot food, relax in front of a television or get first aid
from a Red Cross nurse. On Monday, at the St. Johns University
respite center, they got to visit with Tikva and Kate.
“What kind of dog is that?” said one firefighter,
reaching down to pet Tikva, a short, gray and black furry ball
of a dog. “I have two labs at home,” said another,
stroking Kate’s golden head.
“The dogs have been providing a lot of emotional support,
especially in the days right after the attack,” said Ehlers.
“It’s so hard for those guys down at the perimeter. It’s
their job to rescue, and the whole world is watching, but they
haven’t been able to do it. Every time they can’t rescue
someone, they grieve, and now they’re just feeling
The workers struggle to detach themselves emotionally to do
their jobs, but the dogs help them get in touch again. The
dogs remind them of home, of family, and of happier times.
“Over and over again I’ve heard the men say, ‘that dog
made my day,’” Ehlers said. “They pet Tikva and say how
soft she is when all they’ve felt is iron or cement.”
The firefighters usually ask to feed the dogs, and Ehlers
always agrees, understanding their need to help. "They're
always asking me, 'Can I feed her or give her some water? Does
she need anything?'" Ehlers said. "I let them feed
her awful things — hamburgers, fries, cookies — because it
allows the workers to feel helpful again, at least for a
Even at the end of the day, after Tikva and Kate have been
walking throughout Lower Manhattan to bring people comfort and
hope, the dogs don’t stop working. “When we get back to
our hotel, I sometimes have to go through emotional detox,”
said Kate’s handler, Pat Dickenson. “While Cindy is in the
shower, I’ll just sit on my bed and cry a bit. Before you
know it, Kate is at my side licking my hand and Tikva has
jumped into my lap. You just can’t help but smile.”