On December 16-1 7, 2022, VITAS Volunteers & Staff, Thomas Dalton, Laurel Torres, Shelly-Ann Whittingham Sofia Mohammad, Al Sasiadek, Tina Reeder (and Dunkin) David Zielinski, along with 6 Nova University students, and staff from Palm Beach VITAS participated in the annual VITAS sponsored Bereavement Camp.
Several families came out to spend the weekend camping with us to share their feelings of grief in a safe space among other families experiencing loss.
Everyone participated in a plethora of activities while learning healthy coping habits and making new friends in the Florida sun.
I had responded to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland Florida with another therapy dog team in 2018 and became aware of my calling in this specific ministry. God made the way for me to obtain and train a Golden Retriever puppy through the support of my administrators at the school I am working as a High School Teacher. Through our daily interactions with students and faculty, Dunkin was able to receive the socialization, desensitization and obedience training he needed to be a certified Canines for Christ Therapy Dog.
With the Crisis Response training I had previously and our desire to be a team, Canines for Christ provided that extra support and training to make us ready! With Hurricane Ian hitting the west coast of Florida on September 28, 2022 my heart broke for my neighbors. I knew what hurricane devastation looks like responding to Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida as a Chaplain in 2018 and suspected similar in Fort Myers. Canines for Christ recently made a partnership with the Salvation Army and we got the call! Excited and apprehensive we were able to make two deployments, Fort Myers and a week later to Port Charlotte. I expected to see flooded homes, destroyed mobile home parks, and broken-hearted people, what I did not expect to see was joy and tears at the sight of Dunkin.
From the hard working, dedicated, and selfless Salvation Army officers and volunteers, to the variety of relief workers, to the homeowners and residents, they all embraced Dunkin. His very presence, tail wagging and panting pink tongue brought pure joy to each encounter. He provided the opportunity to share God’s love and hope as I prayed with people and listened to their stories. The memory that stands out in my mind the most is when we visited a golf community. Dunkin and I were escorted in the back of a golf cart as part of a caravan of golf carts carrying food and water to the residents of the community.
They would yell “Food, water, ice, Dunkin the Dog” as we drove through the streets of the debris lined roads. As we pulled up to a building of previously flooded homes, doors wide open and people carrying various wet and mildewed belongings to the street corner, my eyes fell on one man. He stood in his doorway just staring at Dunkin in the back of the golf cart. He made a straight path right for Dunkin avoiding the offers of a hot meal and embraced Dunkins golden fur covered neck and buried his face. They seemed to embrace each other as the man cried, probably for the first time since the day he “lost everything.” They stayed that way for a few minutes, then the man just walked away. The Spirit spoke to me, “he needed to do that for days now and you just gave him the safe opportunity to do it.” Thank you, Fort Myers and surrounding communities, for loving Dunkin and allowing us to love you back
Jesus, remind them of your love that covers a multitude of sins and will comfort them into eternity. Amen.
Canines 4 Christ member, “Dunkin,” receives an official Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) patch to add to other identifications on his doggy vest. Dunkin and his handler, Tina Reeder, partnered with other EDS volunteers working in the Port Charlotte, Florida area in the wake of Hurricane Ian. “Dunkin is a rock star,” says Laurie Fried, Port Charlotte incident commander. “He has been a huge positive factor, both for our EDS personnel and families devastated by the storm.”
SOUTHERN SPIRIT• DECEMBER 2022 I
On 10/2022 Dunkin and Tina travelled to Fort Myers, FL as a Crisis Response team for Canines 4 Christ (a Christian Ministry using Therapy Dogs to share the love of Christ).
Dunkin and Tina’s goal was to serve with the Salvation Army to help and minister to the victims and first responders affected by Hurricane Ian.
In March of 2022, Dunkin became a Vitas Hospice Paw Pal. He started with visits to the staff in 2021 because of the difficulty in visiting patients following the pandemic.
The staff needed the comfort during this stressful time as well! He now visits the Vitas IPU (inpatient unit) at Broward North Hospital.