HONOLULU (KHON2) — Humankind’s best friend is one of the most astonishing creatures we have in our daily lives.

They are loyal and loving and provide a comfort that few others can ever achieve. And studies have shown that canines can help alleviate physical, emotional and psychological trauma.

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They provide benefits like reducing stress levels and anxiety.

“All it takes is to see the smile on someone’s face when the dogs come in the room, to know this is true,” said ADH Executive Director, Maureen Maurer.

In the wake of the fires on Maui, in particular the devastation to Lahainā, there are hundreds of families and individuals who are dealing with loss of family and property.

With all this emotional turmoil that is fomenting on Maui, the Assistance Dogs of Hawaii agency has moved to stand in the gap where mental health services are not so easy to find amidst the chaos.

“Like everyone on Maui, we are trying to do whatever we can to help our community,” said Maurer. “Our staff and volunteers have been working around the clock to reach as many people as possible.”

ADH is a Maui-based nonprofit that is working with therapy dog agencies across the United States to bring therapy dogs to survivors.

“The Therapy Dog teams have been visiting emergency shelters, fire stations, police stations and aid workers,” explained Maurer. “The dogs are all Labradors and Golden Retrievers, ranging in age from 5 months to 8 years old. Some are puppies that are currently in the training program to become Service Dogs for people with disabilities.”

Their campus is located in Maui’s upcountry area not too far from where the original fire began. Everyone, including the dogs, were evacuated to Maurer’s home in Kihei where they remain through this situation.

Their facility remains unoccupied and has suffered wind damage but no fire damage.

One of AHD’s managers, Marsha Sarver, has spent her evacuation visiting with hundreds of people at emergency shelters.

  • ADH therapy dogs Star, Theo, Quincy and Olu reporting for duty at War Memorial Emergency Shelter in Wailuku, Hawaii on Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo/Assistance Dogs of Hawaiʻi)
  • Therapy dogs Sadie and Tess are being deployed from Seattle, Washington to provide support for those affected by the wildfires. (Photo/ROAM Maui)
  • Therapy dogs are comforting children on Maui in Wailuku, Hawaii on Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo/Assistance Dogs of Hawaiʻi)
  • Therapy dogs are comforting children on Maui in Wailuku, Hawaii on Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo/Assistance Dogs of Hawaiʻi)
  • Therapy dog teams take a break after visiting the War Memorial Emergency Shelter in Wailuku, Hawaii on Aug. 12, 2023. From left right is Ruby Kessler, volunteer; Marsha Sarver, an ADH manager; and Karen Kessler, a veterinarian. (Photo/Assistance Dogs of Hawaiʻi)

“These dogs love their job and enjoy the visits”, said Maurer. “We make sure they have plenty of breaks; so, they don’t get burned out. We want to continue these services for the long-term.”

Sarver has spent time with children and families as well as individuals who have suffered from these fires.

“My favorite part is seeing the children’s faces light up when they see the dogs”, said Sarver. “Many of them know the dogs by name and look forward to seeing them each day. Just seeing the smiles on people’s faces is so rewarding.”

But the shelters are beginning to thin out as federal and state aid flood in to help survivors cope with the aftermath.

“Initially, Therapy Dog teams visited emergency shelters in Central Maui,” explained Maurer. “Last week, as people moved out of the shelters and into hotels, the teams visited displaced families at hotels near Lahainā. Keiki received stuffed animals to keep and cuddle with. Next week, the number of Therapy Dog teams will double and begin visiting students at elementary schools and high schools.”

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The ADH trains service dogs with limited mobility; however, they have had to temporarily suspend regular operations to focus solely on their Crisis Response Program.