COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Canines were at work in Oklahoma Thursday helping victims cope with Monday's devastating tornado.
A furry team isn't just deployed in disaster zones; there's a group of dogs comforting people in need around Colorado Springs.
Nine-year-old Schnauzer Roco visited his fan club at Springs Village Care Center Thursday. He became a certified therapy dog eight years ago. He's a regular at the center, Memorial Hospital and Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care.
Residents laughed and smiled as they petted Roco and watched him play.
"When they come in the residents just seem to light up," said Daniel Tijerina with Springs Village Care Center. "They seem to change when the dog comes in."
Roco's owner, Joetta Graner-Smith, works for Therapy Dogs, Inc. She's a tester/observer for the company granting qualified dogs their therapy dog certification.
She was hesitant to join the organization 12 years ago, but she watched a therapy dog at work and she was hooked.
"This dog for a moment in time gives them the opportunity to not have pain, to not remember where they are at, not remember their losses," said Graner-Smith.
Roco has had setbacks during his canine years. He suffered a stroke in 2011 injuring nerves in his back legs. He uses a wheelchair to make his way around the long hospital hallways.
"There's been many times where we've had people that have been injured or hurt and now they have to rely on a wheelchair, a walker, a cane and this gives them hope they can go back to an active life," said Graner-Smith.
Tijerina and Graner-Smith agree these dogs having healing power.
"Dogs or any pet help the well-being of a human being," said Tijerina. "It's been proven that pet owners live longer."
Graner-Smith said Roco's hospital visits drop patients' blood pressure and lower their heart rates.
Roco will take a test in October to see if he qualifies to help disaster victims through the Hope Organization. If he passes, he'll travel to areas like Oklahoma to comfort victims.
"He's able to offer some hope to them. Maybe they have lost their dog in the disaster and they want to be reunited with their animal," said Graner-Smith.
In the meantime, he'll continue bringing smiles to his fans in Colorado Springs.