On August 3 and 4, America fell victim to two unspeakable mass shootings: One in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, which claimed 22 lives, and a second on a lively street in Dayton, Ohio, which took nine lives. When news of the tragedies hit, John Hunt and his young Rottweiler Gunther got on a plane headed straight toward the grieving communities.
Dogs in El Paso
As the co-founder of Crisis Response Canines, flying toward tragedy is Hunt’s job. Hunt and his team frequently jet off to funerals, hospitals, and sites of mass shootings with a small but mighty army of dogs, hoping to bring some light and relief during a tough time.
“The best things about the dogs I will tell you is that they’re not judgmental,” Hunt says. “They don’t ask questions.”
Hunt and Gunther—as well as Curt Merker and his dog, Ty—arrived in El Paso with a packed schedule. They collaborated with the El Paso police and Crosses for Losses to establish a cross memorial for all the victims, spent time supporting the trauma, emergency, and ICU staff at the University Medical Center Hospital, and gave law enforcement some relief with their “de-stress visits.” Most of the time, however, their duties often begin before they even touch down.
While Crisis Response Canines always communicates and works with law enforcement prior to arriving at the site, Hunt and his team go wherever relief is needed. When Hunt went to Las Vegas in the wake of the 2017 mass shooting, he and his team began interacting with people who were directly involved as soon as they check into their hotel. He has even met a victim’s loved one on the plane to the tragedy site.
“There really is no timeline,” Hunt says.
Dogs in Dayton
Crisis Response Dog Training
While enlisting a dog in crisis response is rewarding, not every canine is cut out for the job. For Hunt, it all comes down to temperament. Not only do the dogs need to cater to different people and emotions, but they are also required to go through security at airports and sit on long flights. Hunt explains that those with the proper temperament go through strict training, which includes interacting with law enforcement to get used to loud sirens.
“We have phenomenal dogs, and certainly the handlers have to go through some challenging tests themselves,” Hunt says.
Additionally, Hunt spent decades with the state police and is certified in skills such as crisis intervention and stress management.
After an event like the shootings that occurred in El Paso and Dayton, the road to recovery is undeniably long. However, Hunt and his team hope to provide some temporary relief.
In El Paso, Hunt recalls seeing one woman on one of their stops. He brought one of the dogs over to her, and she proceeded to pet the canine. Eventually, she asked if she could hug the dog.
“If nothing else, it’s that moment of decompression and hopefully forms a bridge to recovery,” Hunt says. “We know it’s going to take a long time to recover, but it allows them that moment.”
Gunther is an AKC-registered Rottweiler and competes in Obedience outside of his CRC work. Ty, a mixed breed, is part of the Canine Partners program. Crisis Response Canines are certified therapy dogs and complete their AKC Canine Good Citizen test.
To support future deployments, you can donate to Crisis Response Canines.