I am often amazed at how one of our Canine Companions for Independence service dogs can touch so many lives, even beyond their "normal" jobs. Some of our service dogs work with a single adult or child while others become a ‘facility dog’ working with a handler helping sometimes hundreds of people at a hospital, courthouse, police department or a victim advocacy center.
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Murph is one of those facility service dogs and his handler Janet Balser works for the Staunton, Virginia Victim/Witness Program. On a normal day, Murph and Janet aid crime victims, families and witnesses throughout the legal process. Murph’s calm and loving sweetness empowers witnesses to testify.
Then last week, another horrific mass shooting occurred in this country where 12 people were killed in Virginia Beach, Va. Services and memorials were held this week to honor those killed.
Janet felt compelled to use her extensive experience to do what she could during the terrible tragedy and Janet’s boss, the Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeffrey D. Gaines, allowed her to leave the office to help.
So Janet got in her car with Murph and drove the three-plus hours to Virginia Beach. “Murph and I are here comforting the victims at the memorial and vigil. He’s doing all the work. He just lets me tag along.”
Murph and Janet are meeting family, friends, co-workers and anyone else who came out to honor the victims.
“They immediately seek out Murph. When I don’t have the right words to say, he is just there letting people hug him and cry. Whoever he encounters, he helps them work through their pain. They just sit quietly and hug him. It’s truly amazing and so emotional.”
A vigil was held at Rock Church and was very inclusive. A variety of faith communities throughout the Virginia Beach community sent prayers to the victims and family members. Everyone offered messages of healing and unity.
Janet and Murph are leaving Virginia Beach today to go home but say they will be available in the weeks to come as the impact of this terrible tragedy continues to unfold.
Janet and Murph graduated from Canine Companions for Independence in May of 2017. Murph was named for U.S. Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael “Murph” Murphy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005 trying to rescue his unit behind enemy lines. The story of his heroism was told in the book and movie “Lone Survivor.”
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You can’t change the past. This is an awful time for the Virginia Beach community. But just thinking how a pup like Spike, like all the Canine Companions puppies in training, can someday play a role in helping communities heal is just a beautiful thought. And that is why so many of us volunteer to raise service pups in training - and can give them up. They have a much bigger purpose. Sometimes bigger than we may ever know.