LOWVILLE — When “going to the dogs” means that local agencies are harnessing the potential of animals to ease stress or the impact of traumatic experiences, it can be a very good thing.
Lewis County Search and Rescue, Inc. and the Office for the Aging have both brought service dogs onto their teams to do exactly that.
Zora, an 11-month-old female goldendoodle, and Bean, a nine-month-old male Cavalier King Charles spaniel, were recruited to the two service agencies, respectively, for the same reason with different focuses.
Search and Rescue welcomed Zora into the fold as their station therapy dog on Dec. 22, said Chief of Operations Justin Astafan, when EMT and Search and Rescue board member Brandon Roggie, who found Zora for the unit, and Capt. Josh Genter brought her home after they completed training as her handlers.
In the lives of first responders, much of the work is emotionally charged, not just for the patients and their families, but for the responders themselves.
“I have been researching this for a long time,” said Mr. Astafan in a news release, “Part of my job as chief is to ensure that our providers are both mentally and physically healthy.”
In their research, Mr. Astafan and Mr. Roggie found many large emergency service companies like American Medical Response have already had trained emotional support animals on their teams for years with positive results,
Zora is doing exactly what she was trained to do: be in tune with first responders and help them let go of the sadness and stress that can come with witnessing suffering.
At the county Office for the Aging, however, Bean has been brought on board to connect directly with clients going through what can be a long-haul, disorienting and traumatic experience: the aging process.
The floppy-eared pup has just started his training as a comfort care dog with his first home visit on Dec. 24 to Bill and Elizabeth Morrow, said department head Kelly Hecker.
Comfort animals have become popular in elder care around the nation and in study after study published on the National Institute of Health Library of Medicine website, elderly people who have interaction with animals as owned or visiting pets are found to be more social, less depressed and more active, among other positive impacts. Increasingly, health institutions, like the Office for the Aging, are tapping into that healing power.
Mrs. Hecker said she is no stranger to the magic worked by comfort dogs: Dirk, an emotional support dog she had in her care for many years, could recognize when people with dementia were having episodes or when others were anxious or depressed.
Bean, said Mrs. Hecker, is becoming good at his job quickly, “He doesn’t jump and is just small enough to sit on laps, which he absolutely loves. He has the perfect personality for this work.”
If his first visit was any indication, Bean will bring smiles and calm to the county’s elderly with mutual appreciation and the comfort soft fur and a wagging tail can bring.