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Crisis canines bring calm to KeyArena clinic

SEATTLE - The return of the Seattle/King County Clinic at KeyArena this weekend means thousands of volunteers will help thousands more patients with free medical, dental, and vision screenings.

Among the most popular of those volunteers are two dogs, named Charlie and Pickles, on a mission to share a little puppy love.

"Every time I see one, it just makes you smile right away," says dental patient Phanna Duong.

As many as 20 trained dogs with HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response will be roaming the halls, stairs, and floor of Key Arena this weekend. Along with their handlers, they work to calm nervous patients. Charlie and Pickles are experts.

"These dogs... have been to Oso in 2013," says HOPE volunteer Raquel Lackey. "They've been to Seattle Pacific University. They worked 45 days at Marysville Pilchuck High School, and some will be back for the anniversary [of the shooting] on Saturday."

It's rewarding work, but also exhausting. The dogs work four-hour shifts with breaks about every hour. Charlie and Pickles usually take a moment to nap.

"The stress goes from the people to them," Lackey says.

For the people Charlie and Pickles can help, the change is visible.

"You see people relax, melt, hug," says HOPE volunteer Patty Day. "It's pretty amazing. You have a bad day? They know. And they're there for you."

HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response teams are all-volunteer, and go where they are invited. Dogs participating at KeyArena come from as far as Montana and Oregon, Lackey says. They were invited back this year after an overwhelmingly positive response last year, clinic organizers said.

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