The Rev. Lisle Blind of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Windham, left, and Chaplain Cheryl Cuddy of Westbrook sit Saturday with Niko Suave, an American Akito who is trained as a comfort dog at the Ramada Inn. The conference center was set up by Tri-County Mental Health for emergency drop-in counseling for members of the public to utilize Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The Ramada Hotel and Conference Center at 490 Pleasant St. is a temporary home to a cooperative of organizations and people (and a crisis response dog) Saturday and Sunday dedicated to providing support for those affected by Wednesday night’s shootings.

The cities of Lewiston and Auburn facilitated the group dubbed “Happy Place” which includes Tri-County Mental Health, Sweetser crisis services, K9 First Responder Inc. and several others specializing in crisis and disaster response and pastoral care.

Tri-County Mental Health CEO Catherine Ryder said attendance was small Saturday, but with a large press presence, she is hopeful people will know they have a place to go for support Sunday.

“Especially kids who have been impacted,” Ryder said. “We’re hoping they can come and benefit from some comfort from Niko, give Niko a big hug. And there are lots of people with lots of talents here to support the community.”

Friendly Akita, Niko Suave, of K9 First Responders Inc. is the big draw for adults and children in need of a silent, but supportive cuddle-buddy. Niko’s handler, Brad Cole, said the canine is crisis response-trained and that the organization has responded to similar events in the Northeast, namely the Sandy Hook Massacre, to support those affected by episodes of mass violence.

Cole said handlers from his organization are trained in crisis and disaster response, but also know the value of animal-to-human connections especially with children. Responders like Niko also create a greater environment for people to connect with other people.


“We’re from out of town, so it’s our job to make their job easier to create opportunities for connection and engagement,” Cole said. “Niko knows what to do.”

The Rev. Lisle Blind from St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Windham and Cheryl Cuddy from Westbrook Public Safety were also at the center for crisis support. Blind said she used to bring children to Just-In-Time Recreation, one of Wednesday’s two shooting scenes, for mentorship and the fact people fell victim to violence there is a stark contrast from the happy memories of getting kids out of their shells.

“I worked in this community years ago and I know people are coming together. People here don’t just leave other people in the community hanging. They’re going to show up for you. That’s what communities do,” said Blind.

Having responded to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting for crisis services, Cuddy said it is an unfortunate thing that it takes tragedies of this magnitude to remind a community what it is made of.

“Everybody wants to be able to help at this point and it makes a huge difference when people can really do that. I’ve heard so much, now, ‘oh, I have friends in Lewiston,'” said Cuddy. “People are talking about connections they weren’t talking about before and I think that makes a huge difference. It really saddens me that something like this makes people in this whole surrounding area, in Maine, to realize what (it has).”

Crisis responders, including Niko, will be available Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ramada Hotel Conference Center at 490 Pleasant St. in Lewiston.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.