Among the friendly faces waiting to greet people in line at the Christmas Bureau, a few have four legs and a wagging tail.
Debbie Wing is one of several therapy dog handlers volunteering at the Bureau with the Northwest Regional Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response team. She was there Friday with her black lab named Honda.
“He’s a good boy,” she said as he sat calmly. “He’s always been a mellow dog.”
The therapy dogs have been coming to the Bureau for four years. The dogs are often deployed to incidents by the Red Cross, Wing said. Honda’s first deployment as a therapy dog was to the Freeman High School shooting in 2017.
Even though there’s no crisis at the Christmas Bureau, the dogs still offer a benefit, Wing said. “They’re waiting in line, the kids are stressed,” she said. “He’s got lots of hugs today. Basically, it’s just a comfort.”
Beth Alcorn was there with her giant Newfoundland-poodle mix named Oscar, who has silky soft curly hair. Adults as well as children clamored to pet him, and he was happy to oblige. As Oscar walked down the line, he approached an elderly man who appeared to be sad. As Oscar stopped and leaned his head against the man’s leg, he smiled and reached down to stroke Oscar’s head.
“He really loves people,” Alcorn said as he worked.
It is Alcorn’s first year working with the Christmas Bureau, and she said the experience can be as profound as when Oscar visits a crisis incident.
“It’s really powerful to hold a leash and watch the difference a dog can make,” she said as she watched the smiles that greeted Oscar wherever he turned.
Catholic Charities’ Christmas Bureau Coordinator Sierra Heinen said they added the therapy dogs to help people who get anxious in large crowds.
“We feel like it’s super important,” she said. “Sometimes the line can be overstimulating because it’s so long and loud.”
The dogs work four-hour shifts and the teams come and go. If you happen to visit the Christmas Bureau this week, look for the furry faces bringing their own dose of Christmas cheer to the event.
The collection for the Christmas Bureau is still struggling, with new donations of $17,604 bringing the year-to-date total to $235,149.13. The goal is to raise $525,000 so Catholic Charities and Volunteers of American can pay for the food vouchers, toys and books being handed out to needy families at the Spokane County Fairgrounds. The bureau is open until Friday.
Today’s tally was given a boost by a $10,000 donation from Hotstart Manufacturing Inc.
The Spokane law firm Douglas Eden donated $6,000. “All of us at Douglas Eden are happy for the privilege to continue supporting The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund with our $6,000 gift to families in need,” they wrote. “By joining with others in Spokane, we want to spread holiday peace, joy and sharing in our community. A very big ‘Thank you’ to each of you at The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund for your good work in making the holidays a special time for so many people.”
The letter was hand signed by Ronald P. Douglas, William D. Eden, Marc A. Phillips, Daniel B. DeRuyter, Brent T. Stanyer, Ryan M. Douglas, Diane J. Kiepe, Erik A. Kukuk, Anita Anderson, Brandi Morhardt, Sandy Saty and Cyndi Woods.
Terry and Kathy Deno, of Spokane, gave $510 via PayPal. “To all S-R retirees: make somebody’s Christmas and please donate,” they wrote. Michael Miller contributed $500 via PayPal. Mary Mace, of Liberty Lake, donated $99 via PayPal.
An anonymous donor gave $200 in memory of Gust Abariotes. An anonymous donor from Surprise, Arizona, donated $145 in memory of Dorothy Gordon.
Michael V. Brown contributed $75 via PayPal. Karen Schlosser sent $50 via Pay Pal. Kay Rasmussen, of Spokane, gave $25 via PayPal. “Blessed to be able to share, even if it is a small amount,” she wrote. “Thankful for the girls.”
For donations made through PayPal, The Spokesman-Review contributed the processing fee.
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