Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Jan Vena and Belle

This post is about the shooting that took place at the Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. It contains difficult content, so please do not read on if you feel you may be effected. 

This article and sketch have been posted with the express written permission of the interviewee. Analog Artist Digital World takes the privacy and wishes of individuals very seriously. 

Jan Vena works at Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) and in her off hours she volunteers by offering pet therapy with Belle, her pet Collie. She found Belle at a dog show at the fairgrounds. She was walking through the grooming area and watched a lady grooming collies for show. She had a really pretty 4 month old puppy on the table. Jan asked about how she trimmed and brushed the pup and the handler was very helpful. They negotiated and Jan ended up taking Belle home that very day. She has been with her ever since. Collies overall are gentle and loyal.

Belle was given a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test and she passed with flying colors as a dog who could go out in public and behave. They said she was a trustworthy dog. The CGC is a basic acceptance certificate and it started Jan and Bell in pet therapy since the tester worked a therapy program. It sounded interesting, she worked at the hospital anyway and on her days off she could go in with Belle and see patients. Shortly after that Jan had surgery herself. She had one visitor and it was the German Shepherd. She had seen both sides of pet therapy and she wanted to be part of it. Now there are 48 dogs in the ORMC pet therapy program. The dogs have become accepted at the hospital. They do as much staff therapy as patient contact.

On June 11, 2016 Jan was home alone. Her husband was in China working on Shanghai Disney. It was an average weekend day with cooking, cleaning, and probably working on her collection of 200 orchids. She woke up and turned on the news. She wasn't sure what she was hearing at first, with the news breaking every 30 seconds. She didn't grasp the magnitude of it. Many had been shot. The numbers kept growing. She and her husband Skyped every day and he said, "I heard about the Pulse incident there." He knew about it the same time she did. ORMC was just a few blocks north of Pulse.

The hospital called in therapy dogs individually at first. Since Jan was an employee and had a long history at the hospital and Bell had such a gentle demeanor, they were called in just 3 days after the shooting. Along with the Chaplin, Belle and Jan did visitations for anyone wanting to spend time. The environment was like nothing she had experienced before. There was a quiet dark shadow looming over the hallways. Security was everywhere. This was the place of all the action, but the hospital itself was full of remorse. It was cold, she felt lonely going in. Jan just wanted to do what needed to get done and not bother anybody or say anything wrong. It was difficult to discuss and probably shouldn't have been discussed at that point. The investigations had to go on, security had to do their job, and Jan and Bell had their job to do.

Most of the injuries were so tragic that people weren't let into shooting victims' rooms.  She and Belle mainly visited with families who were in the trauma waiting area. They went to the emergency room where the staff benefited greatly because of what they had just been through.  Many doctors didn't respond much, they were dealing with the everyday. Some got down on their knees and cried in Belle's fur. If they were having a stressful day in the emergency room, it is amazing what touching a dog can do, some of the stress melts off. They didn't know how long to stay. They stayed for a couple of hours that first day. It was stressful for Belle.

The news media was there in force. They had big boom microphones as well as lenses that were as close to the ER as possible. The trauma bay doors would open and close and they wanted a glimpse of someone, a story, a word, or someone screaming. Any little tid bit to take back to the station. It was irritating to Jan. These families were in such disastrous trauma, trying to deal, and they were pushing their camera in. The hospital finally had to park two big firetrucks in front of the entrance. Then the media had drones flying outside the windows of patients rooms to try and get a picture. Being on the care taking end, that was one of the most frustrating things. The media parked on Orange Avenue was from everywhere, with trucks, trailers, vans. and huge mobile units. There were news organizations from around the world parked down Orange Avenue. They exemplified the magnitude of the moment.

After working all day, Jan didn't have the energy to bring Belle in for the evenings. She went on her day off and on weekends. Several of the shooting victims got to know Belle and Jan in the following weeks. Many of the families of shooting patients spoke Spanish. Jan doesn't speak Spanish, but they didn't need to speak. Belle did a lot of the talking. The families knew why they were there, and Jan understood why they were hurting and nothing needed to be said about it. Someone might be on the phone speaking Spanish and they would reach down and pet Belle with their other hand. It was just her presence that mattered and they were OK with that. When they were waiting and waiting for an answer or a test result, they were happy to see Belle. It got to the point where some families would ask for Belle and Jan to sit with them. They were very appreciative. There were also times when they weren't up for it.

The work Jan and Belle did in response to the Pulse shooting was worth more than she could have ever imagined. She got back more than she ever gave. They continue to offer comfort to anyone who needs it.

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