Often after severe weather or natural disaster strikes, hundreds to thousands of people are left homeless and hopeless, picking up the pieces. While recovery is typically a lengthy process, one dog and her owner are working side-by-side to provide comfort to disaster victims in the aftermath of a storm.
"That unconditional love of a dog is what really helps people," Canines for Christ Volunteer Ron Leonard said. "It allows people to have comfort."
Leonard and his rescue Labrador Retriever-mix, Molly, have been traveling tens of miles from their home in Nashville, Tennessee, for two years now to visit disaster victims and show them love, hope, kindness and compassion.
"Molly is not a service dog; Molly is a therapy dog," Leonard said. "She's just there for comfort."
As a therapy dog, Molly first went through obedience training then successfully passed therapy training with the Canines Good Citizenship Award, sponsored by Therapy Dogs International, a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registering therapy dogs and their handlers. During her training, Molly was taught how to help people by learning how to sense and detect different human emotions, and as a result, she was officially certified as a therapy dog.
Following her schooling, Molly and Leonard journeyed to various disaster sites as well as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, children's hospitals, cancer wards and even some emergency rooms to offer consolation to those suffering.
"Molly comes in and is able to neutralize the situation and be there to just administer a presence," Leonard said.
Currently, Molly and Leonard are in route to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where a severe storm outbreak spawned a tornado that ravaged the town on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, leaving behind a trail of destruction.
Looking at Mayflower, Fayetteville and Tupelo, the three major areas that were hit recently by tornadoes, people impacted go through a grieving process and when they reach the fourth phase in the process, depression, that's where we come in, Leonard said.
As Molly and Leonard look to aid victims emotionally post-disaster, the duo always has to be aware of the situation at hand.
"People can be naturally scared of dogs," Leonard said. "We have to be really careful because we never want a person to be more traumatized than they already are.
Besides exercising caution around victims, the pair has to ensure that their visit is welcome as some facilities do not allow animals, even dogs, on the premise.
While not everyone has the skills and economic capabilities to aid disaster victims in the rebuilding process, Leonard believes that he and Molly are able to help in a different and special way.
"Everyone out there really wants to make a difference and their dogs can really make that difference," Leonard said. "Dogs can't talk to them [people], but a dog can feel what they feel."