MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (SNN) – Manatee County Emergency Service’s furry new team member is helping care for those responsible for protecting all of Manatee County, and they are hoping their new service dog could be a model for the state.
“He walks through a room and everyone just lights up,” EMS Chief James Crutchfield said. “Everyone’s happy to see him, and it’s truly remarkable, people open up, people smile.”
Rucker is a two-year-old service dog trained to help first responders deal with the stress of the job.
“If we’ve had a harder day,” Paramedic Lydia Wilkinson said. “And we have something that reminds us of a critical call we’ve had earlier, it’s kind of rough to go through.”
That’s where Rucker comes in.
“It just makes you happy,” Wilkinson said. “And I just don’t think about anything other than how big his paws are, or how happy he is.”
Valor Service Dogs trained Rucker to recognize signs of stress.
“A lot of people will kind of ring their hand together,” Valor Service Dogs Executive Director Carol Lansford said. “Or if they’re seated, they’ll kind of bounce their leg kind of nervously, some people will cover their face or rub their head.”
Rucker comes in and interrupts that.
“So it gives the person an opportunity to recognize that and work through it more productively,” Lansford said. “And then the other side of it, is when you touch a dog or a dog touches you, oxytocin is released in the body, so you know non-medically you’re happy hormone.”
First responders are then encouraged to use the peer support program to work through their anxiety.
“It’s not natural the things that they see,” Crutchfield said. “And having an outlet, and having peers that are able to talk them through things that aren’t natural to see is important.”
“What helps me with it,” Wilkinson said. “Is talking to people about it, so I’ll usually just talk to my partner about it. I know that it is OK to talk about your feelings, and it is ok to talk about the call and you’re feelings about it.”
Rucker is the first Valor Service Dog working in a first responder facility, and they hope he can be a model for other departments to help more emergency officials deal with their stress.