A Gloucester Township dog and its owner have been nationally recognized for their work across the country in helping those affected by tragedies deal with trauma, being able to comfort victims and families that have endured emotionally strenuous situations.
Gunther, a 6-year-old Rottweiler that is certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, was recently named a recipient of the 2019 AKC Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence in the Therapy Dog category. Such an award is given to five dogs each year in different categories in an effort to “celebrate loyal, hard-working dogs that have significantly improved the lives of their owners and communities.”
Gunther’s owner, John Hunt, spent 27 years in the state police before retiring as the Homeland Security Special Operations Commander. Hunt had first started training dogs at the age of 18 and upon retirement, he made the decision to spend the next phase of his life working with animals specially trained to comfort trauma victims.
“Once I got out of the state police, I saw the utility of having certified teams to help out with crisis intervention,” said Hunt.
After working with Gunther on obedience work, he quickly started to focus on therapy training that would enable Gunther to visit schools, hospitals and other small venues that could benefit from positive interaction with a therapy animal.
Eventually, Hunt and friend Andrea Herring would become co-founders of their nonprofit Crisis Response Canines, which was formed approximately a year ago.
Since its inception, Hunt and Gunther, along with Herring and others associated with the nonprofit which now spans the country, has been able to respond to various mass shootings and other tragedies to help first responders, law enforcement and victims that endured such violence.
“We’ve gone to a number of mass shootings; we went to Orlando after the Pulse nightclub shooting, we went to Las Vegas after the Route 91 Harvest music festival, we’ve been to Parkland, Fla., multiples times,” said Hunt. “We go and interact with people and provide crisis intervention, while also trying to support the psychological and physiological needs they might have following such a tragedy.”
Hunt, who owns three therapy dogs himself, says Gunther has shown tremendous patience and love over the years to those he meets when responding to a myriad of situations across the country.
“A dog doesn’t ask questions and it’s not judgmental,” said Hunt. “Race doesn’t matter, religion doesn’t matter, ethnicity doesn’t matter. We’re there to provide people the decompression that they need.”
Upon receiving approval from first responders and appropriate channels to ensure Crisis Response Canines can respond to a scene, Hunt says Gunther has shown a unique ability to understand how much emotion a person would like Gunther to show.
“He will even turn his back to you and sit still so you can pet him and feel more comfortable,” said Hunt. “If he sees that you’re afraid of him or not ready to interact with him, he’ll actually avoid you and not push himself on you. Gunther understands that you have to want his attention and he’s quite unique in that way.”
Now having received national recognition for his work, Hunt says Gunther is every bit deserving of applause for his work over his five years as a therapy and crisis dog.
“It’s a distinctive honor, there’s so many dogs across the country that were recommended… and to know that this honor was bestowed upon Gunther and myself is very humbling,” said Hunt. “Knowing all the lives that he has positively impacted over the years, to be given an honor like this is quite remarkable.”