When Community Chaplain Response Team Executive Director Jason Reynolds read a story about therapy dogs being used at Ground Zero after 9/11, he realized just how effective they could be for chaplaincy work.
"The first responders who were working there and the construction workers who were digging through the rubble, after an eight to 10-hour shift, everyone was given an option of spending two hours in Central Park with a therapy dog just to deal with the stress of what they were doing, what they were seeing (and) what they had been through."
Wanting to provide the same service for first responders in Harvey County, Reynolds adopted a dog named Rudy from Caring Hands Humane Society in April 2018.
Rudy was not the first dog Reynolds brought home in hopes of training them for therapy work; in fact, he and his wife debated whether or not they should give up the project altogether.
"One Saturday, I just got in a mood and said, 'I think we should go up to Caring Hands one more time,'" Reynolds said.
Joni Schroeder, veterinary assistant at Caring Hands Humane Society, was keeping an eye out for a dog that would fit Reynolds' purpose, despite dealing with dozens of dogs each month.
"We have so many dogs that come in and out, you just get to know a little bit about them," Schroeder said.
"I know at Caring Hands they try to do the best they can to get a history on the dog and screen the dog and I think that's really important," Reynolds said.
Part labrador retriever and part German wire-haired pointer, Rudy is black with white whiskers springing from his snout. According to Cynthia Sutcliffe, marketing coordinator for Caring Hands, he was surrendered because his previous owners were concerned that he liked to chase cattle.
Rudy, however, seemed to have that something special — a calm personality and ability to get along with anyone.
Recognizing the value of what a therapy dog could do for first responders, Caring Hands donated Rudy to Reynolds and despite his former life as an outdoor dog, Rudy immediately took to indoor life.
"This has probably been the easiest dog we've ever adopted in our lives — and we've adopted a lot of dogs," Reynolds said. "Rudy just fit right in.
Being 5 years old, Rudy is easily going through the exercises that other puppies in training to become therapy dogs find challenging. Reynolds hopes to go on to have him certified as a professional therapy dog, which would allow the dog to join him on disaster relief efforts around the country.
In the meantime, Rudy is often found in the CCRT office in a building shared with several other nonprofit organizations.
"He greets everybody who comes in the door," Reynolds said.
Rudy has also visited Newton's law enforcement center to meet with Newton police officers, Harvey County deputies and dispatchers in the communications center.
"When we go in, Rudy goes to the door that goes down to dispatch first, because they have treats and stuff," Reynolds laughed.
Rudy is already serving as an icebreaker for Reynolds to be able to talk with first responders.
"There's one officer up there who calls him his fleabag," Reynolds said. "He's like, 'hi, my fleabag is here!" and it's not an insult, it's a term of endearment and Rudy goes running for him. He really does have the ability to lighten the atmosphere and that allows me to engage in some conversations and see what's going on."
Rudy's job will include spending time with local first responders to give them relief from the stress of their work. Many work 12-hour shifts and may be required to deal with multiple emergencies during their day.
"If anything comes out 15 minutes before your shift is over, you're going to that and working that, too,"
Reynolds said. "It's a pretty stressful job (with) the things that they see and deal with and the circumstances that they find themselves in."
Schroeder recalls Rudy making an appearance at the balloon launch during an annual softball tournament hosted by a local suicide prevention coalition.
"It's intense, because people are writing messages and sending a balloon up. People came off the field and they saw Rudy and you could see them lift up a little bit, because it was like, 'oh, look — there's a dog.' They went over and just loved on him," Schroeder said.
What may seem like a time full of petting and play is truly a job for Rudy.
"You can tell, if he's been with me to the sheriff's department or someplace after a call ... he comes home pretty tired at the end of the day," Reynolds said. "I don't think people understand that when a dog is de-stressing other people, it's stressful for them."
At the end of the day, Reynolds makes sure Rudy gets playtime at home, along with exploratory walks.
"People don't give dogs — or any animal, really — enough credit for the emotional part of their life," Reynolds said. "...You have to take care of that."
The dog who had been surrendered to a shelter found a new purpose.
"Rudy found a home, but he found a job, too," Reynolds said. "When I grab that harness and leash in the morning, he is on it and ready to go. ...He loves to come to work. If I don't bring him, he sits at the door and pouts."
"The reason why I like this story so much is that it's about a shelter dog," Sutcliffe said. "...People assume that a shelter dog isn't capable of doing this and he's living proof that they can."