Therapy dog training to help EMS workers deal with stress

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Therapy dogs are becoming more common in a variety of school and workplace settings. At Allina Health, they're testing out a new program for their EMS division to help those first responders deal with the immense stress they see on a daily basis.

Evie the goldendoodle may only be 14 weeks old, but she's already at the top of her puppy kindergarten class. Soon, she'll start more intense training to become a certified therapy dog for Allina Health Emergency Medical Services.

“She’s doing awesome,” said Kyle Strege, Allina EMS Health EMS Operations Supervisor. “She’s learning very quickly. She’s a very intelligent dog.” 

The program is the first of its kind in Minnesota for EMS workers. Evie will remain at the home base in Savage for a crew of first responders and be a source of comfort after long and grueling days.

“Science proves that therapy dogs, or dogs in general, bring down your heart rate and your blood pressure and release the feel-good hormone oxytocin, so just coming back after a rough shift at the end of your shift, you have some downtime, you’re able to decompress by playing with the dog,” said Renee Rosenberg of Allina Health EMS Operations Supervisor.

Rosenberg is Evie's main handler and took the initiative to get the program started. She says EMS workers, police and firefighters have a much higher incidence of suicide and PTSD this is one way to combat that.

Evie already loves riding in the back of the squad. Once Evie becomes certified, she'll be used to provide individual or group therapy to first responders when they need their spirits lifted.

Her wagging tail has already helped the crews who responded to the horrific scene at the Mall of America when a five-year-old boy was thrown over a railing.

“Both of those crew members have been back on duty since that call and they do interact with her and for the most part it’s very enjoyable,” said Jeff Lanenberg of Allina Health EMS Division Manager.

After all, dogs just know when you need some extra love.

Evie will not interact with any patients in the ambulances, she's just for staff. The goal is to have therapy dogs, like Evie, at all of Allina EMS home bases over the next few years.