When 29 members of the Montana Army National Guard’s 67th Network Support Company said goodbye to their families and left last June for a yearlong deployment to Iraq, Sunnie, a 7-year-old golden retriever, was there.
When those same soldiers came home Saturday to a throng of family and friends gathered at Billings Logan International Airport, she was there in the crowd to say “welcome back.”
Sunnie is a specially trained therapy dog with HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response, which brings therapy dogs to people who may have been in stressful or traumatic situations as a calming presence.
“We’re just glad to be here,” said Sunnie’s owner and handler, Lyn Findley. “We were here when they left and they invited us to come back today.”
The trio of HOPE AACR volunteers — Findley, Carla Prinkki and team leader Harry Schlitz — didn’t push Sunnie on anybody, but kept the calm pooch off to the side just in case the soldiers or their families wanted to meet her.
“There’s still a lot of emotions going on here,” Schlitz said. “With Sunnie, she has a tendency to lock onto the person that’s really stressed. These dogs really pick up on emotions. It’s just priceless.”
HOPE AACR is an Oregon-based nonprofit that brings teams of therapy dogs and their owners into possible stressful situations. There are a dozen such teams in Montana, with three of them in south-central Montana.