US Paws on the ground: Comfort dogs bring much-needed love to Las Vegas
Acts of heroism emerge in chaos of Las Vegas shooting
Rob Ledbetter's battlefield instincts kicked in quickly as bullets rained overhead. The 42-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served as a sniper in Iraq immediately began tending to the wounded, one of several heroes to emerge from the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Amid the massacre in Las Vegas, which left 59 people dead and more than 500 injured, there were acts of compassion and countless heroics that officials say saved scores of lives.There was a man one survivor knows only as Zach who herded people to a safe place.
For many scarred by seeing the carnage inflicted in the Las Vegas mass shooting, a little comfort came courtesy of man's best friend.
Nineteen trained golden retrievers from across the country padded their way to Las Vegas this week courtesy of Lutheran Church Charities to provide comfort for those affected by the attack, which left 59 dead, more than 500 wounded, and thousands of families and friends emotionally devastated.
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The first call came across the Las Vegas radio channel in a burst of static. "We got shots fired," the police officer said in a breathless voice. "Sounded like an automatic firearm."
But even those who survived the carnage at the Route 91 Harvest festival without physical wounds desperately needed that nuzzle — like Sunrise Hospital director of guest services Tracy Szymanski, who is still persevering through her job despite having been in the crowd Sunday night.
"I came straight to the hospital from the venue at 10:30 at night, still wearing my concert clothes, because I knew there were things I could do to help the families," Szymanski told TODAY. "It was a sigh of relief when the first dogs arrived Monday morning, because I knew the cavalry had arrived.
"I felt I had help at a time when I felt helpless."
The comfort dogs, along with their 30 human handlers, are part of— veterans used to having their "paws on the ground" after disasters, natural or otherwise.
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Here’s how the Las Vegas shooter could have obtained an automatic weapon (if he did). Rachael Parker, 33, was killed while attending the concert with coworkers from the Manhattan Beach Police Department, where she had worked as a records technician. "I just remember honestly that whenever I walked by she took the time to look my way, wave and smile. And that wasn't just for me, that was form everybody. She was that kind of person," Captain Tim Hageman of the Manhattan Beach Police Department told KXLY.
The unit's canine caregivers brought survivors some solace after the Sandy Hook shootings, and more recently, provided comfort to parts of Texas and Florida hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.
And even amidst all the horror of the Las Vegas shooting, it's amazing to see how quickly these four-legged pros can spread smiles, LCC president Tim Hetzner told TODAY.
"Dogs are non-judgmental, they don't take notes and are comfortable to talk to," Hetzner, who oversaw the Las Vegas mission, said.
"A key part of healing in any crisis or disaster is to be able to talk about (the trauma), and people find it easier to do that with dogs."
Those dogs — including one, Lois, who is based in Las Vegas and a regular visitor at the Sunrise Hospital — have been busy. "Because of the magnitude of this event, just about everybody who lives in Las Vegas has been affected," said Hetzner.
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Besides working with survivors and grieving families, the comfort dogs visited a high school where several students were injured in the shooting, hotel workers helping victims' families, and traumatized first responders.
They have also visited the coroner's office, both to support victims' loved ones and staffers wading in such overwhelming grief.
It's extremely emotional work for the dogs.
"The dogs have an ability to tell when someone is suffering, so after working with them for a few hours, we take their service vest off, pull a ball out let them run around and be dogs for an hour," said Hetzner. "These are golden retrievers, they like to retrieve. That's how they work off their stress."
The current team is being flown out Friday to be replaced by a new, rested crop that will stay through the beginning of next week.
"They come up to you and get dog hair all over you, and then just nuzzle up to you and put a smile on your face," said Szymanski. "Every morning, as the person who supervises their visits at the hospital, I get to get my first dose."
"It helps me process everything."
Las Vegas hotel weighs fate of notorious 32nd floor suite .
<p>What will become of the now-notorious Las Vegas hotel suite that a 64-year-old retiree used to stage the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history?</p>That is the difficult decision facing the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino a week after Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd at an outdoor concert from room 135 on the hotel's 32nd floor, killing 58 and injuring more than 500.
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