Therapy dog, handler honored as top therapy dog duo in the US

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A South Jersey therapy dog and its handler are being recognized by the American Kennel Club as the top therapy dog duo in the country.

Gunther, a 6-year-old Rottweiler, and his handler John Hunt have responded to many tragedies, including a school bus crash in Mount Olive that killed a Paramus student and teacher as well as several recent mass shootings.

“When you see a Rottweiler, you think big and aggressive,” says Hunt, who is the security director for AtlantiCare. But Hunt says that Gunther is anything but aggressive. They typically work in the hospital comforting patients and even staff members.

The duo also works with Crisis Response Canines to respond to tragedies around the country. They went to Las Vegas after the shooting at the Mandalay Bay hotel.

"They said, ‘Would you please immediately start working with some of the workers who are impacted by the events,’…We immediately started working with security, bellhops, valet, all those people who started seeing these people who were running across the street after being directly impacted,” says Hunt.

So, what is it about dogs that help people cope after a traumatic experience?

"Time and time again we see where people will interact with the dog, maybe just pet the dog. And you see that decompression and you see that that aids them and then we start communicating,’ says Hunt.

Hunt says that the job is rewarding, but that he also hopes for a day when it isn’t needed.

“None of us want to go anywhere again. Our role is to respond and help them in some way and shape or form but it's always devastating to hear about these things,” he says.

Hunt and Gunther will receive the Excellence Award for therapy dogs from the American Kennel Club at a ceremony in December in Florida.

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