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Dog comforts Yellow Ribbon trainees

Tess, a Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response K-9, interacts with Geneviene and Elizabeth Cherington, daughters of Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Cherington, 482nd Maintenance Squadron flight chief, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, during a Yellow Ribbon event in Orlando, Florida July 25, 2014. The Yellow Ribbon Program promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. James Branch)

Tess, a Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response K-9, interacts with Geneviene and Elizabeth Cherington, daughters of Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Cherington, 482nd Maintenance Squadron flight chief, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, during a Yellow Ribbon event in Orlando, Florida July 25, 2014. The Yellow Ribbon Program promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. James Branch)

HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response representatives Kathy and Jerry Constantino work with service dog Tess July 25, 2014, during an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon training weekend in Orlando, Florida. The program promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. James Branch)

HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response representatives Kathy and Jerry Constantino work with service dog Tess July 25, 2014, during an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon training weekend in Orlando, Florida. The program promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. James Branch)

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Last weekend's Yellow Ribbon event here was a first for Tess, a HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response working dog.

An active member of a comfort dog response team, she took a break from her weekly hospital and school visits to interact with military members and their families at the Air Force Reserve training weekend. Through Hope, she provides comfort and encouragement to individuals who've often experienced life changing events, such as deployments, crises and, sometimes, disasters.

"She's so cuddly and fun," said Geneviene Cherington, daughter of Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Cherington, 482nd Maintenance Squadron flight chief, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, who recently returned from a Middle East deployment. Geneviene's sister, Elizabeth, enjoyed meeting Tess, too.

"Our girls are getting a kick out of playing with the dog," said Anna Cherington, their mother. "She's so calm and polite."

Tess was originally owned by a Soldier in Fort. Bragg, North Carolina, before being adopted by Jerry Constantino, canine team leader, and his wife Kathy, canine team member.

"We are so lucky to have her," said Kathy Constantino. "She was placed in a county animal shelter when her original owners left Fort Bragg. Shelter personnel loved her so much that they transferred her to a no-kill shelter. I heard about her through a friend and went to adopt her."

Tess' personality led the Constantinos to have her trained and certified as a therapy canine. After gaining the one year of required experience, she was screened and trained as a response dog, receiving specialized training in emotional first aid, and behavior and stress management.

Crisis response is a unique kind of animal-assisted intervention, the couple said. Crisis teams are screened and trained to respond in more intense emotional and environmental situations and frequently work under the guidance of mental health professionals.

"Tess has the unique ability to sense when people want comforting," said Kathy Constantino. "Canines can sometimes sense those needs before humans can. It's a gift. They can't be trained for that. We wanted to share her gift with the over 650 heroes and family members during this Yellow Ribbon event."

The Yellow Ribbon Program promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. It began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles. Each year, the program trains more than 6,000 reservists and family members in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.

"I could tell there was something special about Tess, the way our daughters immediately ran over to her," said Anna Cherington. "She has a magnetic personality."

The Constantinos, one of 250 nation-wide Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response teams, devote numerous hours of physical and mental training, to keep Tess certified. The criteria are similar to that of military search and rescue dogs.

Tess swims daily at a lake near their home in Seven Lakes, North Carolina.

"Response dogs require care, and like us, sometimes a little rest and relaxation," said Kathy Constantino. "It's been a long and hard journey for Tess, but serving in events like this, to us, is that light at the end of the tunnel."