Let’s use more dogs!


Yesterday I led a workshop on integration of dogs with crisis response, CISM and peer support, which arose from the successes and relationships that we had with dog teams when I was working for CAL FIRE on the North Bay fires and others. Here are some quick notes on ideas and insights.

Spartacus, a 120-lb. Akita with K9 First Responders, visiting Las Vegas Fire after the October 1 mass shooting.

Our big take-away was that we should follow up with further networking and communications, so that we can increase the number of trained teams and deployments. A number of the attendees have been working with dogs for other purposes and are interested in expanding into crisis response. For example. Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs end up being comfort dogs anyway, so formalizing the training and activities would a natural expansion.

  • When you have a dog, you are forced to take breaks.
  • Background checks (for handlers) are necessary before taking dogs into sensitive areas such as dispatch centers.
  • Dog visits for first responders who are forced off of work for any reason, but especially when injured (physically or psychologically) could be powerful. So often, responders feel abandoned or betrayed when they are not permitted to work.
  • Dogs are “outsiders” – they aren’t firefighters, cops, medics, dispatchers, etc. – but they are able to provide comfort anyway. That’s a lesson for every “outsider.” If you are just present and responsive to emotions, you can be a support. You don’t have to understand the job.
  • Comfort dogs have participated in West Coast Post-Trauma Retreat – great to hear! WCPR, where I’ve served as a peer, is a wonderful thing.
  • CAL FIRE had approximately 18,000 per support contacts in 2017. Wow.
  • We heard about comfort dogs that help witnesses and victims of violent crimes, such as domestic violence, take the stand and testify despite their fears.
  • In Sonoma County, dogs routinely take part in the anti-drunk driving high school program, Every 15 Minutes.
  • Dogs were visiting the helibases at the North Bay fires – one Aussie shepherd was informally adopted as a mascot!
  • Damage inspectors and investigators have some of the toughest jobs at large fires.
  • The amount of scientific evidence supporting the use of comfort or trauma dogs is extensive and strongly supports the practice.

Every time I’m involved in one of these discussions, my heart longs to have a comfort dog that I can take along when I’m deployed for peer support or crisis intervention. I hate to think about losing either of our dogs, but I know they probably won’t last as long as I will, so I start thinking about what’s next for our family. And there’s also the possibility of comfort horse, too – my wife spent yesterday at an equine therapy workshop, learning how she might use our horse or others. Horses are big! Perhaps a miniature… (which are recognized as therapy animals by the government).