Oliver, a 1½-year-old golden retriever, was among the local therapy dogs that worked along first responders with national dog teams following the Oct. 25 shooting.

LEWISTON — After responding to as many locations as possible following the Oct. 25 mass shooting, Oliver, the 1½-year-old golden retriever, essentially slept for two straight days.

Oliver’s handler, Katrina White, said Oliver is hardly ever tired, but that “after those first few days, it was taxing on him.”

“The amount of work these dogs have done is tremendous compared to what they typically do,” said Lauren King, administrative assistant at Mission Working Dogs, where White and Oliver also work.

About a week after the shooting, King was with Gator, another golden retriever, at a local school. King said Gator loves kids, but she just laid down in the middle of the circle and let kids come up to her.

After going nonstop for days, the dogs were signaling they needed a little well-earned rest.

In the hours following the shooting, local dogs such as Oliver became connected to a national organization called K-9 First Responders, which sent dog teams to Lewiston. The teams, which are specifically trained in crisis response, essentially act as first responders, working as a basis of support for people and in conjunction with mental health services.

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White said they basically became part of their team for a few days, going wherever requests for dogs came from. They were at community spaces in Lewiston and Auburn, vigils, libraries, schools, dance studios, local nonprofits and more.

“Oliver and I literally went everywhere. Every day, all the time,” she said.

The night of the shooting, White and Oliver were called into the Lewiston Armory, where Oliver interacted with witnesses. After the witnesses left for the night, they stayed and hung out with law enforcement.

“They were still in disbelief,” she said, referring to the witnesses.

Kimberly Brown’s goldendoodles Sky and Campbell sit for a photo at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston prior to the community vigil held after the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston. Submitted photo

During those few days, York County-based Kimberly Brown and her dogs, Sky and Campbell, were also connected with K-9 First Responders because Brown and her dogs are certified in “assisted critical response.”

Her dogs were at both vigils, as well as the Ramada Inn, which had been set up as a community response center. She said they are trained not to approach people, and instead to allow people to come to them.

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“We’re there for support,” she said. “A lot of times, people don’t want to talk, or don’t want help. We are trained to be there and when they are ready, they can connect on that level with a dog.”

Sometimes just sitting with a dog can become an icebreaker that allows first responders to facilitate more help for that person.

Brown said she saw several examples of that, including one person who had been at one of the shooting locations. She said the person was completely “closed off,” but that after she asked him if he liked dogs, and brought one of her goldendoodles over to say hi, he sat on the floor.

She said sometimes during her work in schools, children read books to Campbell, who is 12-years-old. Brown ended up asking the man if he wanted to do the same.

“I think he had been through so much that it was a relief to just do something completely silly — just sit on the floor and read to a dog,” she said. “You could just see his whole demeanor change. He went on to get more support, and I’m not sure that would’ve happened if it wasn’t for that.”

White described the work as “kind of like a bridge for access to mental health resources.”

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Since White and Oliver work in Lewiston, they were already familiar with the local community and law enforcement. White said they knew some of the victims and witnesses. Because Oliver was asked to go to several locations in the days following the shooting, people started recognizing him. At the Lewiston vigil at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, he sat among hundreds of people.

She said events like that vigil were “a whole different ballgame” from what they had done in the past, due to the sheer number of people, most of whom are dealing with trauma and anxiety, which the dogs can sense.

“He was a rock star, but I’m biased,” White said.

Therapy dogs Ranger and Gator of Mission Working Dogs are shown in the days following the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston. Submitted photo

King said that while the Connecticut-based K-9 First Responders have trauma training, the volunteers at Mission Working Dogs do not. But it looks like that will change. She said the organization just received a $50,000 grant from Unum for the purposes of conducting the training.

Now that the national dog teams are no longer in Maine, there’s more demand on people like White and Brown.

King said they’re seeing those requests now, but “only have a handful of dogs certified with only a handful of people who can do it, and it’s all volunteer for the most part.”

Brown said after the national teams left, she and White were asked to sort of “go forward and continue the work they had started.” She said they are planning to create a similar Maine-based crisis response.

During one of Brown’s initial responses with Sky and Campbell, she said one woman kept coming in and out of the center, but Brown had a feeling she wanted to connect with the dogs. Eventually, the woman just sat for awhile and hugged one of the dogs.

“She didn’t go to counseling, but the next day, she came back to see me and the dogs,” Brown said.

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