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At such a devastating time for Florence victims, therapy dogs are ready to lend a paw

Margot Bennett, left, and Kellie Renzi stand with their therapy dogs, Brisco and Darcy, on Thursday at an insurance mobile command center as they wait for people to file claims for damage caused by Hurricane Florence.
Margot Bennett, left, and Kellie Renzi stand with their therapy dogs, Brisco and Darcy, on Thursday at an insurance mobile command center as they wait for people to file claims for damage caused by Hurricane Florence. jjohnson@heraldsun.com

Darcy and Brisco have gotten a new assignment. They’re going to help support people who have suffered through Hurricane Florence.

The canine volunteers are from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and they’ll be providing comfort to storm victims filing insurance claims in Eastern North Carolina.

Therapy dogs are best known for visiting hospitals, special needs centers and nursing homes. But the peace that they can bring is equally needed — if not more so — in disaster areas.

“One of the things that these dogs are so good at is providing support,” said Margot Bennett of Cary, Brisco’s owner. “You know, just being there and having something to pet. It makes people happy. And these dogs are trained to do this kind of work because they are happy to be with people. It just gives them a sense of peace.”

Darcy, who belongs to Kellie Renzi of Garner, is still pretty new to the scene. She’s been providing warm nuzzles for just six months. Brisco is a veteran with about eight years worth of therapy dog experience.

Allstate Corp. began enlisting therapy dog volunteers to help at its mobile claims centers earlier this summer in California, where wildfires were so devastating, said company spokesman Justin Herndon. They were well received, and the company decided to make it a part of its mobile command operations, he said.

“You kind of learn what customers need and then evolve to that,” he said. “We found after the wildfires, which was a really emotional experience for a lot of families coming back to nothing, that something like therapy dogs might help, Sure enough, it has.”

ATD says it has about 15,000 volunteers nationwide. Still, when Allstate reached out to ATD for volunteers in North Carolina, Herndon said he did know what to expect.

“We didn’t know if we were going to get even 10,” Herndon said. “But we had close to 80 who immediately responded, ‘Hey, I want to help. Tell me when and where.’ It’s another cool aspect of people wanting to help other people.”

A photograph of Robert Simmons Jr. and a kitten, Survivor, in a flooded New Bern, NC, neighborhood, went viral during Hurricane Florence. Here is what happened to Simmons and the cat after the picture was taken.

Renzi and Bennett said they will be heading to areas hit harder by Florence this weekend. They plan to connect with other Allstate mobile operations in New Bern and Wilmington.

Herndon said his company has about 10 mobile operations teams deployed in the disaster area. The goal is to have therapy dogs at each one.

“I think we’ll see a lot of folks who are going through one of the worst times in their lives,” Renzi said. “So bringing a sense of normalcy and all that with our dogs will provide comfort to them.”

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews

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