MDFR, Animal Services team up for therapy dog adoption, training program

HAULOVER BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is taking steps to provide comfort to their first responders with help from some four-legged friends.

The department is working with Miami-Dade Animal Services and the Greyhound Association to adopt dogs of different breeds and train them as station therapy dogs.

7News cameras captured a trained therapy dog “high-fiving” its trainer at Haulover Beach, Monday.

“Good girl,” the trainer said.

The dog was one of several four-legged trainees out and about near the beach.

The program is an expansion of of MDFR’s Response K-9 program that aims to help the women and men who risk their lives every day.

“We witness a lot of ugly things as firefighters,” said an MDFR training captain.

Studies show first responders are five times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

MDFR Capt. Shawn Campana said she hopes this program helps change that statistic.

“For the first time in the 22 years that I’ve worked here, we’re now seeing firefighters embrace a program that’s good for their mental health,” she said. “Whether they know the science or not, the dogs still work. They give a sense of calm, a sense of connection, which is absolutely something that’s vital when you’re dealing with something like PTSD.”

Campana started the program three years ago after losing six friends and co-workers to suicide and PTSD. She described how it works.

“They respond with the peer support team. After a tough call, the team is requested by the crews that ran the call,” she said, “and the dogs are part of the peer response team and respond with the people to do the fusing.”

The therapy dogs’ goal is to ease situations after firefighters handle a tough call.

“We are more exposed to traumatic situations due to the calls that we go on for first responders and police, so the suicide rate is higher than the general public,” said MDFR Firefighter Jamie Blandon.

Now with more dogs in the mix, county officials hope the program will stretch across the state and throughout the country.

“Firefighters need companionship, something to de-stress them,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. “These dogs need to be rescued, so we’re putting them in this program, so they can become part of our family.”

MDFR currently has 10 therapy dogs.

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