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Why We Turn To Dogs When Disaster Strikes

From aiding search-and-rescue missions to lending a shoulder to cry on, man's best friend can often be found at the site of tragedy.


When disaster strikes, man’s best friend is often there, working on the front lines and behind the scenes of rescue efforts, helping people cope with trauma and loss.

"They help people relax and calm down," Tim Hetzner, president of the LCC Comfort Dogs, told ABC News.


Lutheran Church Charities sent its dog brigade to help in the aftermath of some of the worst disasters in recent history, including the Las Vegas shooting, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, as well as the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook shooting.


While medical professionals tend to the survivors, four-legged caretakers look after everyone else — from family members who lost loved ones to first responders and other members of a community in shock.


"Your blood pressure goes down when you pet a dog, you feel more comfortable, and people end up talking," Hetzner said. "They're good listeners, they're non-judgmental, they're confidential."


Truly man's best friend


When disasters occur, dogs do much more than just aid search-and-rescue missions. They’re often there to provide a source of comfort for us in ways that only an animal can.


In an interview with American Thinker, Debra Tosch, executive director of the Search Dog Foundation (SDF), explained how her search and rescue dog Abby was able to console a firefighter at Ground Zero. "When someone was found, work would stop, and I watched as the tears rolled down the firefighters' faces. I remember one firefighter who hugged Abby and buried his face in her neck after just finding out a fellow firefighter was found," she said.


Research show that petting dogs can lower anxiety, regulate breathing and decrease blood pressure, and a Japanese study found that simply looking at a dog can increase levels of oxytocin, a chemical released by the pituitary gland that’s associated with human bonding and affection.


But while the firefighter may have found comfort in Abby’s presence, was the dog able to empathize? Research says it’s very likely.


A 2012 study at Portugal's University of Porto found that dogs yawn even when they hear only the sound of a person yawning, providing strong evidence that dogs are able to empathize with us.


And a study at the University of London Goldsmiths College found that dogs comforted people — both their owners and strangers — when the person pretended to cry.


"I think there is good reason to suspect dogs would be more sensitive to human emotion than other species," Deborah Custance, co-author of "Animal Cognition," told Discovery News. "We have domesticated dogs over a long period of time. We have selectively bred t