Golden PAWS, Collier EMS establish therapy dog program for first responders
By Staff | on April 06, 2023
Paramedic Lt. Sonia Alvarez laughs at Leo's antics. COURTESY PHOTOS
Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs and Collier County EMS have partnered to establish the first local program to assist first responders.
As the Collier County EMS has made a commitment to address self-care, mental health, emotional support, and the overall well-being of Collier County EMS Paramedics, EMTs and personnel, Jeannie C. Bates, founder and CEO of Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs, is providing its highly trained therapy dogs for the program.
CCEMS first introduced the idea of therapy dogs to its first responders in late 2022 during a medical in-service training. Golden PAWS attended the sessions and provided volunteers and dogs to visit with the first responders; during this meeting, it was clear that there was a need for a partnership to begin.
The primary objective for the dogs is to provide comfort and companionship to Collier County EMS’ First Responders after critical incidents or in a time of stress relief. Stats show that first responders who are exposed to potentially traumatic incidents in their work environment are four to five times more likely to develop PTS compared to the general population. PTS (Post traumatic stress) is associated with reduced occupational, social, and family functioning and if left unrecognized, PTS can develop into PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Golden PAWS’ Leo extends a helping paw to Paramedics Lt. Esvin Staiger and Paramedic Austin Bonk.
The CCEMS therapy dogs and their handlers are a part of CCEMS Peer support team, Critical Incident Stress Management team, and Critical Incident Response Team, and may be deployed to any disaster response as deemed necessary by the Chief of CCEMS. Currently, CCEMS has two therapy dogs, Zelda and Leo. Along with their handlers, they make station visits, providing comfort and emotional decompression for the first responders.
"The Golden PAWS Program is unique and each of our dogs has a story," said Ms. Bates. "Although Leo and Zelda's service journeys began serving veteran recipients, they now get a second job, and a job they are equally successful at. We pride ourselves on ‘Serving Those Who Need Us Most,’ and that is truly what both Leo and Zelda are doing, in the community and with every person and life they touch."
The CCEMS reports that paramedics and EMTs will ask for "Zelda Time" or "Leo Time" particularly after a difficult 911 call or shift. It's obvious to everyone that the dogs love to work and are happiest when they are providing service. According to the CCEMS, they have had a positive impact on the mental and physical health of CCEMS employees and have allowed personnel to decompress and open conversations regarding PTS and PTSD.
"We are very grateful to Golden PAWS for p partnering with our agency to provide mental wellbeing care for our employees using therapy dogs.
We have already seen what an impact these animals have made on our first responders," added Chief Butcher, Collier County Emergency Medical Services.
Golden PAWS Assistance
Dogs is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes independence for combat wounded veterans and children with life-changing disabilities through partnerships with skilled assistance dogs. To learn how you can support Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs’ mission or for more information about the organization, visit www.GoldenPaws.org or call 239-775-1660. ¦
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