The volunteers received the 2019 John Henry Award

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FARMINGTON —The lobby of San Juan Regional Medical Center was full of canine activity Friday as volunteers in the Therapy Dog program discussed their recent award as they were recognized for providing comfort to the community following a tragic shooting.

The team of therapy dogs and volunteers were awarded the 2019 John Henry Award as part of the 13th Annual Behavioral Health Day Wednesday at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

As part of Senate Memorial 16, the Behavioral Health Planning Council recognizes "Stars" in the community.

The group were nominated by San Juan County Partnership Executive Director Pamela Drake, according to volunteer Sara Kaynor.

"I was totally surprised," volunteer Becky Houghton said. "I was happy to be a representative of a group and promote the therapy dogs in the community."

The group was recognized for their work in response to the Aztec High School Shooting on Dec. 7, 2017, and for providing support to those in need following the incident.

Kaynor stated while the main focus of the award may have been their response to the incident, the award also recognized the group as a key department at the hospital.

The group and the therapy dogs are written into the San Juan County and hospital's crisis management plan, according to Kaynor.

Marla Sipes, alongside her therapy dogs Karma and Honey, spoke about how data has shown therapy dogs can help lower people's blood pressure and help people get out of bed in the morning if they are depressed.

From her trip to the Roundhouse, Sipes believe those attending the Annual Behavioral Health Day learned about the impact the therapy dogs can have.

"They saw the dog's capacity to provide comfort and care and trust and compassion to these people," Sipes said. "Sometimes, it's just unexplainable."

Members of the group would attend the teacher debriefing session at Aztec High and sit in on students speaking to counselors about their experience.

Kaynor spoke about one time a student wouldn't respond to a counselor's questions until they all sat on the floor and the juvenile would reply to the counselor's questions by speaking to the dog.

"It was much more safe for them in talking to the dog than the person they didn't really know," Kaynor said. "It was amazing."

The group likes making the rounds at the hospital as the dogs provide relief for patients and their families.

As the volunteers and their dogs gathered for a photo, the dogs would constantly approach people entering or exiting the hospital and interact those who would pet them or scratch their heads.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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