LAS VEGAS -- A Route 91 survivor found hope and healing in a new four-legged friend.
A local rescue group gave 17-year-old Kayla Feeser a therapy dog. She named that dog ‘Harvest’ after the festival.
“When we first heard the shots, everybody ducked down,” Feeser said. “Not quite sure what was happening. Everyone was a little confused.”
Like most people that night, Kayla and her mom Rebecca Hudson thought the shots were just fireworks.
“We have very different thoughts of what happened and what we saw but they saw things that 16-year-olds shouldn't have to see,” Hudson said.
They left without any physical scars. But mentally, they both felt the lasting effects of pain and anxiety.
“The waves that would hit her afterward would almost cripple her,” Hudson said. “I'd walk into her bedroom and she'd be on the ground crying. She couldn't even get up and go to school some days.”
“I was getting flashbacks of running through the night from start to finish and that's what would drown me,” Feeser said.
That’s when Kayla’s mom decided to find help in the form of a four-legged friend.
She reached out to Smarty Paws, a valley group that trains therapy dogs for veterans and others living with PTSD.
“They will actually sense it before the handler feels it and then they would alert by either a nudge or a paw,” Smarty Paws trainer Janet Edberg said.
The group has already helped several other 1 October survivors find their therapy dogs.
“I've seen them completely shut down,” Edberg said. “Within just a few weeks of having their dog and starting their training, they're getting out, they're feeling better. They're smiling again. They're not anxious about being in a crowd anymore.”
And with the help of Las Vegas Animal Assisted Therapy, the found a match for Kayla.
“The second we saw Harvest we knew she's the one,” Feeser said.
“It's a beautiful match,” Las Vegas Animal Assisted Therapy owner Cheri Sotelo said. “Harvest is so attentive to everything that Kayla needs.”
Kayla explained why she chose the name for her new friend.
“Harvest to me is something that's going to remind me of the healing process after the festival,” she said. “I wanted to remember the festival in a more upbeat, uplifting way, rather than what actually took place and the feelings that I felt right afterwards.”
And Kayla’s family has noticed a difference in just two weeks.
“The smile has not left her face since she's gotten Harvest,” Hudson said. “It's crazy. It's really neat to see her smile like this again because it's been hard to get a smile out of her in the last year.”
Kayla is now looking ahead to her next big move: college with Harvest by her side.
“Especially with harvest being so young and Kayla being so young, this is the way that things are going to get fixed,” Sotelo said. “This is how we make hearts heal.”
Kayla added not every day is easy. She had a tough time coping with the recent shooting at another country venue in Thousand Oaks.
But she said Harvest was able to calm her down.
Kayla met Harvest at the 2nd annual Pumpkin Paws event, hosted by Opportunity Village.
To get in touch with Las Vegas Animal Assisted Therapy visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LasVegasAnimalAssistedTherapy/
To get in touch with Smarty Paws, visit: http://www.smartypaws.com/