Therapy dogs surprise unseen heroes of Jacksonville Landing mass shooting

HOPE's furry team brings smiles, offers relief to 911 operators, dispatchers

By Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter

The unseen heroes of the mass shooting at the Jacksonville Landing got a surprise visit Wednesday from a pack of pups offering relief.

The HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response team went to the 911 headquarters of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to provide some much-needed comfort to the men and women who received dozens of calls after the deadly mass shooting Sunday at the Jacksonville Landing.

"Seeing all the ringing lines of people trying to get in contact with us, we kind of knew it was something big," said Breanna Fuson, JSO 911 operator.

The 911 operators and dispatchers were among some of the first to be contacted when shots rang out during an Electronic Arts "Madden NFL 19" video game tournament at the Good Luck Have Fun Game Bar inside the Chicago Pizza.

"You can definitely hear the fear in their voice and how scared they were. You hear lots of people in the background yelling and screaming," said Sabrina Boyd, JSO 911 operator. "It was pretty hard to hear that on the phone not knowing what was happening at the time."

They quickly jumped into action, collecting information from dozens of people from the scene and passing it on to dispatchers and police.

"You don't have time to get emotional," Boyd said. "The phones are ringing. You need to move on to the next one and help the next citizen."

Just days after the shooting,  trained therapy dogs​ with ​​​​​​HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response made a surprise stop at to the 911 headquarters for a little TLC, including high-fives and kisses.

"These people have stressful jobs," said Kathy Burns, a volunteer with HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response. "And research has shown that petting a friendly animal reduces your blood pressure, your heart rate, released those feel-good hormones, reduces stress and anxiety."

Even if just for a moment, the comfort dogs brought smiles to the faces of people who deal with life-and-death situations every day.

"To have something to get our minds off of it to have people think about us, it means a lot," Fuson said.

PHOTOS: Comfort dogs visit 911 headquarters

Boyd said the therapy dogs helped settled the atmosphere down a bit.

"This can be a very fast, high-paced job sometimes and it boosts morale," she said. 

The HOPE team is new to Northeast Florida and plans to continue bringing comfort and support to people affected by crisis and disasters. To learn more about the nonprofit organization, visit hopeaacr.org.