Dogs to the rescue: United Hatzalah's psychotrauma K-9 unit expands

The psychotrauma K-9 unit currently includes three dogs which are brought by their handlers to various emergency situations, including fires, serious car accidents and incidents of violence

March 13, 2019 23:35
2 minute read.
United Hatzalah's Sylvia and Max Shulman psychotrauma K-9 unit

United Hatzalah's Sylvia and Max Shulman psychotrauma K-9 unit. (photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)


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United Hatzalah's new psychotrauma K-9 unit recently got a boost from a dog-loving donor who appreciates the contributions dogs male to comforting trauma victims throughout Israel.

The six-month-old unit, now called the Sylvia and Max Shulman K-9 unit, received a generous donation in honor of Sylvia and Max, both dog-lovers themselves.

The psychotrauma K-9 unit currently includes three dogs which are brought by their handlers to various emergency situations, including fires, serious car accidents, sudden death, incidents of violence and searches for missing people.

“We look for the right type of situation where the dogs can add an extra level of care and treatment for the patients," said Pyschotrauma and Crisis Response Unit Director Avi Tennenbaum. "Not all segments of Israel’s population react well when animals are near, so we are very careful as to which calls we send our dog unit members to."

"Our aim is always to make the patient feel more comfortable and empower them," Tennenbaum added. "In most cases, the dogs help us do that. They are brought in to assist in an emergency to help patients calm down, recover and cope with the incident that they just experienced.”

The dogs and their handlers, usually their owners, undergo specialized training that enables the dogs to become therapy dogs. For one owner and handler, Batya Jaffe, who runs the K-9 unit, her course entailed an intensive three-year training course that enables her to train others to become therapy dogs and therapy dog handlers.

“One of the basic rules we learned in animal therapy is that animals don’t judge people. While some patients may be hesitant to talk with people, even therapists from our unit, that same hesitancy does not exist with Lucy, or with any of the dogs in our unit,” Jaffe said.

Over the next few months, the psychotrauma unit hopes to expand the number of dogs in service as well as the situations in which the dogs will be used.

“One area in which we believe the dogs will be very useful in the future is with situational debriefings of our own volunteer responders who suffer trauma from witnessing the medical emergency that they responded to," Tennenbaum said.

"EMS personnel are exposed to an incredible amount of trauma and one method we are employing to deal with that is by having debriefings. We believe that the dogs will be able to assist the first responders to process the incident that they just witnessed in a healthier manner.” 

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