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Canine comfort: Retriever to help Alberta paramedics work through job stress

Last Updated Oct 17, 2017 at 9:00 am EST

EDMONTON – Some four-legged canine comfort is coming to paramedics in Alberta.

Alberta Health Services says it has enlisted a three-year-old black Labrador retriever to help responders overcome psychological job stress.

Delray is an accredited canine trained to provide comfort and support, and will visit EMS stations with his handler following traumatic calls.

There will also be regular visits to maintain morale, promote mental wellness and support members reintegrating to work after taking time off for stress.

The health agency says animal contact has been shown to trigger production of a hormone in the body, which lowers stress by reducing blood pressure and cortisol levels.

Delray and his handler, Erica Olson, will first work in the agency’s central zone.

Their services will be monitored for up to 18 months to determine how the program can be expanded to paramedics across the province.

“Our EMS professionals deal with challenging and traumatic calls every day across Alberta,” chief paramedic Darren Sandbeck said in a release Monday. “The psychological impact is very real and we have made it our priority to support our staff every step of the way.”

The PAWS program was identified by the EMS Psychological Health and Safety Committee as an effective resource for staff using proven animal engagement techniques supported by specialized training through PADS, one of Canada’s leaders in the breeding, raising, training and supporting certified assistance dogs.

“For years we have known that specially trained canines like Delray have a unique and instinctive capacity to comfort those in distress,” said Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne.

Delray is believed to be the first dog in Canada to provide dedicated support to first responders.