Therapy Dogs For First Responders
First responders have an important job to do. They are quickly ready to help in emergencies and often put their lives on the line to make sure others are safe. While we acknowledge their heroism, their occupational stress can take a toll on their mental health. That’s where therapy dogs for first responders come in.
Dogs provide unconditional love and companionship that can help first responders after experiencing a traumatic situation. Additionally, many responders do not feel comfortable sharing their experiences and can benefit from the quiet, nonjudgmental comfort of a furry friend. Pet therapy can help people through obstacles and difficult times when they have trouble expressing their needs out loud. Read on to learn more about the benefits of therapy dogs for first responders.
Therapy Dogs Helping First Responders
It is well known that being a first responder comes with many risks – including long-term, negative mental health concerns. Therapy dogs are one way to provide a range of positive benefits. By being alongside first responders, therapy dogs can provide comfort and emotional support, which can improve psychological well-being. They even help reduce cortisol levels (the hormone associated with stress), while increasing levels of oxytocin (a hormone associated with social bonds and anxiety reduction).
First Hand from a First Responder
Tyler Hunter, Corporal for the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland, is an Alliance of Therapy Dogs member and a strong advocate of therapy dogs for first responders. Hunter is assigned to the police department’s Psychological Services Division. With his certified therapy dog Pete, a 4-year-old, French Brittany at his side, they help share smiles and joy with fellow officers.
“Studies are showing what first responders have long known, that doing and seeing the things that we do isn’t normal. That’s where therapy dogs really benefit first responders,” said Hunter. “Something as simple as giving a first responder the ability to have a ‘pause’ in their day or make them smile is truly fulfilling and impactful.”
Hunter also says it’s hard for many of us, especially first responders to admit that it’s okay to not be okay.
“First responders are called to perform critical functions under stress at all times of day and night but frequently fail to take the necessary time for themselves. If you are struggling, reach out for help, you aren’t alone!” said Hunter. “Mental health and physical health are absolutely related, and you can’t neglect either one and be at your best.”
Lending A Paw
As people continue to learn more about the importance of mental health it is clear that our community’s brave first responders are certainly a professional community whose wellbeing must be prioritized and supported. If any police, firefighters, paramedics, or other emergency services personnel have an interest in free visits from our therapy dogs, please contact the ATD office for more information. We’d be happy to help share smiles and joy!
Photo Credit: Tyler Hunter, Corporal for the Prince George’s County Police Department, Maryland & ATD Member