Stress and grief counseling still available for residents

Therapy dogs Cupid and Tia calmly waited with their handlers Margaret Griffo and Terry Yeomans, greeting arrivals before class in the high school courtyard on Friday, Dec. 8, after starting their morning with the coffee crowd at the Stikine Inn and Restaurant.

The dogs had arrived in Wrangell the day before, coming to town from their Anchorage-area homes for a few days to help people coping with the tragedy of the deadly landslide and the stress of the search and uncertainty, the loss and the community recovery.

After greeting people at the school door, the therapy dog team spent time during first and second hour of the school day in the high school art room with students and staff as needed. After the school stopover, Cupid, a Keeshond breed, and Tia, a yellow Labrador retriever, went with their handlers to visit patients and staff at the Wrangell Medical Center.

The dogs are experienced National Crisis Response Canines that have responded to crises and disasters across Alaska and the Lower 48. "We all get them for a long weekend. You, your neighbors, responders, teachers, students - everyone," the borough said on its Facebook post.

"They are two of the best stress reduction and therapy dogs in the nation," the borough said, explaining the dogs had been invited to Wrangell to help.

"We all need some relief from the loss and anguish of the heroic search efforts of the past 15 days," the borough said, while continuing to encourage residents to reach out for counseling.

"If you need to get something off your chest, reach out. It's important," Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tim Buness said in a borough Facebook post.

Schools Superintendent Bill Burr said free counseling remains available to students and staff, working with school counselor Julie Williams, and those in need have been making use of it. "The schools continue to offer free services, in-person and online," he said. "Anybody at our schools has access to it."

The schools also are continuing to work with SEARHC, according to Burr and Jessica Whitaker, administrative operations manager for SEARHC Behavioral Health, who added that staff from her organization will meet with school officials over the winter break to determine what kinds of assistance in mental health care they can continue to provide to students and staff.

Burr said the schools can still connect, if necessary, with outside services from neighboring towns like Petersburg, Ketchikan and Sitka.

Whitaker said free counseling is still available for residents dealing with grief on a case-by-case basis. "We evaluate them, work with them and collaborate with them to see what the best treatment is, going forward," she said. "We can get them connected with someone, same day."

To schedule appointments with SEARHC Behavioral Health, residents can visit their offices at 333 Church St., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, call 907-874-5000 or visit To reach their 24-hour crisis call center, call 1-877-294-0074.

Private provider Krissy Smith, of SEAK Behavioral Health, also confirmed she is continuing to offer free services for anyone in need of counseling . She offers evening or weekend hours as needed. Call or text Smith at 907-305-0985 or visit the website at

In addition, therapist Riley Hall from Haines said he is still available for crisis sessions if needed. To schedule appointments for free counseling, residents can call Hall at 907-723-1308 or visit his website at


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