The newest member of the Newton Fire Department has an important job ahead. When there's an emergency call, she gets to rest while the others gear up. She also gets to interact with the firefighters and paramedics regularly. But she's pretty demanding too. She insists on calling her ears scratched and belly rubbed by everyone. Her name is River, and she's a four-month-old German Shepherd puppy. Once fully grown, she'll play a crucial role as a therapy dog at the fire department. River is undergoing extensive training to identify and respond to people experiencing stress or trauma.
According to Captain Steve Ashing, River's training differs slightly from regular obedience training. She learns commands like heel, sit, stay, and come. Eventually, when someone is in crisis, she can stay by their side and provide support. Her main job will be taking care of the firefighters and assisting them.
During a meeting earlier in June, Captain Ashing introduced River and the therapy canine program to the city council members. River stood obediently beside her human, observing the audience as Captain Ashing explained her future role.
The Crisis Canines of the Midlands, a local nonprofit organization, provided River in partnership with Adelhorst Kennels. They aim to place a crisis response dog in every county in Iowa to provide support, relief, and outreach.
The idea of having therapy dogs in first responder offices is becoming popular. Another fire captain is also getting a puppy for training as a therapy dog. The Jasper County Sheriff's Office recently announced that Lt. Mike Gunsaulus and Deputy TJ Decker would welcome two new dogs, Poppy and Delta.
River will participate in critical incident stress debriefings as a crisis response canine. These sessions occur after major emergencies to evaluate the responders' performance and discuss their feelings. River's presence helps put the emergency responders at ease by providing a comforting distraction.
Captain Ashing believes that caring for mental health is essential for first responders. They often face stressful and traumatic situations, which can affect their well-being. The program aims to support them in dealing with these challenges and reduce the number of paramedics leaving the profession due to mental health concerns.
River will also serve as a community ambassador, visiting various agencies, schools, nursing homes, and hospitals. The fire department wants the community to get to know River beforehand, so they plan to organize events and introductions. Although River may respond to emergency calls, she won't be sticking her head out the window with the lights and sirens on.
In the aftermath of a catastrophic incident, River will visit victims to initiate healing. While her presence cannot solve the problem entirely, it can provide some comfort and distraction. Therapy dogs are known for helping people recover from trauma by offering companionship and support.
Overall, River's role is to bring joy to the community and uplift the spirits of the Newton Fire Department staff. She will be there to support and provide comfort when needed the most.