Release date: 28 September 2023
West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service has welcomed two dogs to its team to improve the wellbeing of staff and offer support when living through stressful circumstances.
Audrey the three-year-old Golder Retriever and Jasper eight-month-old Springer Spaniel are the first wellbeing dogs to be recruited into the organisation.
The dogs will be used to visit teams across the service to help improve the wellbeing of staff, particularly those that have attended difficult incidents, and support people to talk about their feelings and experiences.
Research has shown that when humans and dogs spend time together, they share oxytocin - a hormone that creates affection, trust, and a sense of security. Their calming influence naturally reduces stress and anxiety.
Both dogs are Oscar Kilo 9 accredited, having passed their suitability assessment tests. An official signing of the service level agreement was held at Chichester Fire Station, which saw the Chief Fire Officer, Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, sign the contract and formally welcome the dogs into the service.
Speaking about the new recruits, Sabrina Cohen-Hatton said: “I am delighted to welcome Audrey and Jasper into the service and have them officially become part of our fire family.
“Their handlers are operational members of staff that have experienced the highs and lows of being a first responder, as well as being mental health first aiders. This breadth of experience means that between the dogs and their handlers, we can provide first-class wellbeing support for those that may be experiencing stress or workplace, whether that be at work or in their personal lives.
“Whilst we already have a number of wellbeing support pathways in place, the unique experience of having a dog in the workplace can provide light relief from the struggles that our staff may be facing, and naturally creates discussions around mental health. We know that proactively seeking support can be daunting, so this is a great alternative for those who may feel uncomfortable in doing so.”
Jasper’s handler, Station Manager Alistair Green said: “We have spent a lot of time slowly introducing the dogs to the fire service – they have been on stations getting used to the sounds, sights and smells of the environment that they will be working in, and have even attended open days.
“Jordan (Audrey’s handler) and I have raised the dogs since they were puppies. We have completed thorough training programmes to ensure that the dogs’ safety is paramount, and that their wellbeing is looked after too.”