Shih Tzu Help With Disaster Relief

Our guest column this month is provided by Burton Goldstein. He and his wife Shellie compete with their Shih Tzu in Obedience, Rally, and Agility They are also active in Therapy Dog activities, including disaster relief. After special training, they provided much-needed calming and comfort for people coordinating relief efforts at the national level after this year’s hurricanes. While one normally might not think of our breed undertaking the training required for such work, what could be more stress-relieving than cuddling a warm and furry Shih Tzu!

The ASTC Charitable Trust also made a $10,000 matching grant to AKC Reunite for Pet Disaster Relief following Hurricane Harvey, and helped to fund a disaster relief trailer deployed in 2016 when fires hit San Diego. Here is Burton’s account of their more hands-on work.

There are only a few Animal-Assisted Crisis Response organizations, although today we see more efforts to prepare people and dogs to participate in that type of work. It is not for every dog, every team, or every organization.

Training opportunities are much more limited than for other therapy activities. In order to get our teams ready for any potential conditions, we have worked our dogs in fire trucks moving at full speed with blaring lights and sounds, helicopters, Coast Guard cutters, tanks, people movers, anything that we might encounter. We need our dogs to give us that look of “Been there and done that, where are the people that need our wagging tails and wet kisses?”

Once flood waters recede, we fear what might have contaminated the ground, so our dogs need to learn to walk in booties. (Imagine that training session, and what we call “the bootie dance.”) The kind-hearted person that just shows up at a disaster, perhaps carrying their old clothes and/or food, the “spontaneous volunteer,” typically just adds to the problem. Our organization’s motto is that “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” We work to build relationships with the first responder organizations, both relevant government agencies and non-governmental organizations. We strive to become a part of their disaster relief/emergency management efforts. Most states have an active Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster.

In our particular case, my wife Shellie and I, with our two Shih Tzu, Emma and the Bear, and with Goldie and M.G. before them, primarily do pet therapy work via National Capital Therapy Dogs in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. We make bi-weekly visits to facilities like the National Institutes of Health. We are actively involved in HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response. We represent them on our Maryland State V.O.A.D. (where I serve as our V.P.). We are known as “Team Shih Tzu.” We maintain “go bags” for ourselves and our dogs.

Deployment can come at any moment--for weather related conditions (like hurricanes and floods), to community related tragedies (like the Washington Navy Yard shootings and the Charlottesville uprisings), to wherever stressful conditions might be helped with the wag of a tail and a calm voice. Both responders and victims can be helped by our work, although perhaps we and our dogs benefit the most!

CREDIT: 2017 December AKC Gazette