Caber, Delta Police victim services’ trauma dog, was in Las Vegas last week to help victims and their families deal with the emotional fallout from this month’s mass shooting at the Route 91 music festival.
On the night of Oct. 1, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of more than 22,000 concertgoers from his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing 58 people and wounding at least 500 more. It has been called the deadliest mass shooting in the United States.
As the victims and their families struggle to cope with the trauma of their ordeal and come to terms with the events of that horrific night, Clark County, at the request of the FBI, brought in eight accredited facility dogs to help.
From Oct. 7 to 12, Caber and handler Kim Granlich joined teams from California, Washington State and Alabama in visiting the family assistance centre set up at the Las Vegas Convention Center and area hospitals. Caber and Granlich were the only Canadian team and the only one from a police service.
Granlich, who has been the program coordinator for DPD victim services for the past 18 years, was responsible for bringing Caber into the department’s ranks in July 2010. The mild-mannered Labrador retriever was the first accredited facility dog in Canada. Now, there are 31 working in victim services capacities across the country, including two more in the Lower Mainland: Lucca with the Vancouver Police Department and Orca with the Langley RCMP.
“I sometimes joke that Caber is better at this job than I am after all my years of education and training because when you introduce him to someone who is very agitated, very emotional, and he spends time with them, they diffuse those intense emotions much more quickly,” Granlich said.
Everywhere Caber went in Las Vegas he brightened people’s day, offering comfort, companionship and a welcome distraction. He helped people to relax and open up about their experience, in some cases for the first time.
“It’s really common for people to better communicate when a dog is present, and more comfortably communicate,” Granlich said. “Sometimes it can be something as simple as people looking at the dog and not having the pressure of having to make eye contact with me perhaps, but sometimes it’s that oxytocin effect … that is definitely at play.”
Granlich said people that spend time with a dog have elevated levels of the hormone oxytocin, which combats cortisol, a hormone that “is ever-present during trauma and when people are experiencing or re-experiencing trauma.
“Cortisol is a helpful hormone in the immediate aftermath and when you’re responding to a threat, but it’s not a helpful hormone long-term. It inhibits people’s cognitive functioning and so on.”
Caber’s ability to calm people and help them through these hard times is something Granlich saw making a real impact in the aftermath of the shooting.
“We did definitely notice a real palpable and positive reaction that families had when we arrived at an area hospital,” she said. “Everyone’s faces just lit right up and just really kind of changed the energy for folks who were spending a lot of time at the hospital.”
“Same thing when we would have Caber go into hospital rooms,” Granlich continued. “One gentleman I recall was just very anxious and he visibly calmed down when he was petting Caber. It was really obvious that his energy changed quite dramatically and we were getting smiles on people’s faces, smiles that their family members had not been seeing previous, so that was pretty special.”
Granlich said the experience has helped the team feel equipped to deal with a larger-scale incident closer to home. The scope of the event, the large number of people affected and the fact that many of the festival attendees were not from the area and have since returned to their homes, making the response to this shooting unique.
“The sheer number of victims … that is a very, very significantly large population of persons affected, and that just touches on the folks at the event; it doesn’t even touch on all the people in the community that were affected and the local hotels that were put in lockdown,” Granlich said.
“Just seeing a family assistance centre operate, dealing with that large number of victims and hearing about what worked and what could go differently or could go better, was very valuable experience for us and I’m certainly going to be making a whole lot of notes in the event that we ever have to respond to something quite large. I think that we, as a program, an agency, probably feel quite a bit more prepared now.”