Service dogs help first responders combat mental health struggles

Therapy dogs helping first responders deal with mental health issues
Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 7:37 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - If there’s one thing Wilmington first responder Josh Baltz knows, it’s to expect the unexpected.

Baltz is the master firefighter for Wilmington Fire Department’s Fire Station 3. While on the job, firefighters encounter mental health struggles more than the average person.

The U.S. Health Department says 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions, much of that stemming from the trauma and tragedy they see every day.

One of the most triggering questions firefighters receive are things like, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?” Although it may seem harmless, these questions can trigger negative thoughts and emotions for first responders.

This is why the Wilmington Fire Department partnered with paws4people, an organization that raises service dogs to help first responders combat stress.

Kaitlin Bellamy is the director of executive administration for paws4people. She says the impact of having a furry friend around the station to help with stress has been a source of comfort for the firefighters.

“Having another option, another tool in their toolkit for a mental health resource is huge,” she says.

The service dogs are more than a resource. Baltz says they are like family now.

“They might nudge you with their nose, and just try to let you know, ‘Hey I’m here come give me some love.’ And just their presence alone has been helpful,” Baltz says.