You don’t equate an ambulance station with puppies scampering around the lounge area sniffing out fallen Timbit remnants.
But that was the scene Wednesday at the Edward Street base station of Medavie EMS Elgin as four puppies and Maggie the therapy dog won over the hearts of all present.
Puppy Day was the brainchild of Pauline Meunier, Medavie EMS Elgin general manager, who saw the opportunity to build on a weekly visit from Maggie.
The de-stressing visits geared to the mental well-being of the crews have been a fixture in St. Thomas and Elgin county since October.
“Maggie and some of her dog colleagues have been coming every week . . . to help first responders and we’ve been very fortunate,” said Meunier.
The addition of four eager puppies to the mix seemed a logical extension for Meunier.
“An opportunity came with their (Maggie’s owners, Phoenix Canine Initiative based in Sparta) connections with ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) and they asked if we would like to have them come over for a puppy day. We sent an invitation to our police and fire friends.
Based on the reaction from the dozen or so paramedics showering the dogs with affection, the 45-minute visit – and the weekly visits from Maggie – are a resounding success.
“It’s been excellent,” enthused Meunier. “They love it, they keep saying we need to have a dog live with us at the station. We’ll see how that goes in the future. We’re talking about how we can expand the program to have some more involvement with the dogs. People have been very receptive to it.
“It’s to help with reducing overall day-to-day stress. We don’t have it set up yet so they can activate the dogs to come after a critical event but we’re working toward what that’s going to look like.”
It’s not the only de-stress program of its kind in the province, Meunier noted.
“Ottawa has a dog that belongs to a supervisor and he is able to come to work with her and support the medics while they’re working. I’m hopeful one day we’ll get to a little more robust system where we’re able to do this and other things.”
While Maggie temporarily lost her star status Wednesday, on a typical visit she is the centre of attention.
“Maggie is our only certified therapy dog, but we have three other dogs up and coming for training,” explained Sara Dodd of Phoenix Canine Initiative.
So, what does it take to be a heart-melting therapy dog like Maggie?
“For a therapy dog, you need really good socialization,” stressed Dodd. “You need to expose her to as much as humanly possible. Put her in a lot of different situations to make sure she is calm and stable. For a therapy dog it’s more about their personality and not what kind of dog they are. It’s their overall ability to engage and be adaptable to different environments. A therapy dog is more to provide empathy and compassion and emotional support.”
For first responders who have literally seen it all, can a visit from a therapy dog really make a difference?
“It’s not the solution to everything, but it’s certainly an effective tool to help make people happier and de-stress a bit,” said Meunier.
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