“Sometimes what we witness during a call hits too close to home or the pressures of life outside the firehouse seem insurmountable. Before we know it, the walls we’ve established to protect ourselves emotionally begin to crack. We’re often the last to notice. But if they aren’t shored up, those walls might come crashing down.” -Firefighter
Day after day, firefighters and other first responders risk their lives for people they have never met. In one twenty-four hour shift, this population may be exposed to any number of traumatic events, from wildfires they can't control, to patients they can’t save. Although these men and women are incredibly strong, everyone needs support from time to time, and when dealing with trauma, and individuals exposed to trauma, we know that sometimes indirect and grounding support, as well as social contact, can be a very effective aid to treatment for people who have gone through some of the realities outlined above that many of us cannot imagine.
Enter Team Kerith, the Golden Retriever, certified crisis response therapy dog and her handler, Heidi Carman. Through their volunteer work at Marin Health Medical Center’s Emergency Department, Kerith (a Guide Dog for the Blind career changed Golden Retriever) found her true calling. She provides unconditional love and instant stress relief to first responders. She forms bonds with the firefighters by simply being herself: she greets with playful wiggles, adoring eye contact, and makes each person she meets feel important, special, and loved. The experience that Kerith is able to provide can be invaluable to individuals suffering from PTSD symptomology.
Kerith has become a member of the Marin County Fire Fighting family. She is there for the crew when they return from a bad call or when they are simply getting ready for dinner. There are many unknowns, since the nature of a first responder’s job is unpredictable, but knowing Kerith will be there to greet them at the end of the day with a wagging tail and a smile is not one of them.
Therapy dogs are helping change the stigma around mental health for first responders. Studies have shown that interaction with therapy dogs can provide both mental and physical health benefits including:
Releasing hormones that play a part in elevating moods
Lower anxiety and reduced feelings of loneliness
Lower blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health
Specially trained therapy dogs like Kerith are beneficial to the firefighter population because 30% of first responders have PTSD, and this population is sadly 50% more likely to complete suicide than the public.
This fund will allow Team Kerith to provide invaluable services to over 400 Marin County firefighters. 100% of the funds cover Kerith’s direct time with firefighters and transportation costs to be wherever “there” is when she is most needed. Kerith will visit fire stations, be on call for critical incident stress debriefing, as well as on call to support crews at Cal Fire wildfire basecamps.