FBI Crisis Response Canines Help Victims Cope with Tragedy

After the mass terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, California, the FBI’s Victim Assistance Rapid Deployment Team was among the first to respond.

The multidisciplinary group consisted of victim specialists, analysts, and special agents all trained in responding to mass casualty events.

While in San Bernardino, they connected grieving victims and their families to a variety of support services during the course of the investigation. But when it came to providing relief and comfort, the team relied on two English Labrador Retrievers for help.

Wally and Giovanni are the FBI’s new crisis response canines. They are part of a pilot program recently launched by the Bureau’s Office for Victim Assistance (OVA).

According to OVA Assistant Director Kathryn Turman, the dogs are an additional way her team can help victims and family members cope with the impact of crime.

“The Crisis Response Canine Program was a natural evolution in developing the Rapid Deployment Team’s capacity,” said Turman. “With San Bernardino and other places we’ve taken them, the dogs have worked a certain type of magic with people under a great deal of stress. That’s been the greatest value.”

Turman said the idea for the canine program stemmed from a conference she attended years ago in Canada, where she witnessed police victim service dogs in action. Turman quickly brought the concept to life at the FBI when she returned home.

With help from the non-profit organization Assistance Dogs of the West (ADW), the FBI was matched with Wally and Gio in October 2015. Turman said ADW identified with the Bureau’s victim assistance program, having trained dogs with a temperament for hospital and criminal settings. Their presence in courtrooms, for example, has helped ease stress in children giving testimony and aided prosecutors in achieving convictions.

“It’s amazing how quickly Wally and Gio relax and disarm people,” said Staci Beers, coordinator for the FBI Victim Assistance Rapid Deployment Team. “When we respond to a mass casualty event where emotions are high, their calming nature enable victims to engage with us and learn about the services we offer.”

Beers and rapid deployment teammate Melody Tiddle both added dog handler to their list of victim assistance responsibilities when they traveled to San Bernadino in December 2015, after the shooting that claimed the lives of 14 people and left 22 seriously injured. The dogs joined Beers and Tiddle for hospital and family assistance center visits.

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