Meet Mason, a Labrador Retriever puppy and the newest member of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Police Department.
This year, in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Hero Pups and powered by AT&T, the Portsmouth Police Department launched a new program aimed at officer wellness – The Police Comfort Dog Program.
Mason will continue training as a comfort dog with his handler Officer Michael Nicoli for the next few months before joining the force full time later this year.
Unlike typical police dogs, comfort dogs work to ease the trauma for individuals impacted by violence, tragedy, or traumatic events. Mason will serve both the community and the officers and staff within the department. Many resources exist that can improve coping and recovery, enhance morale, decrease stress and reduce emotional distress in first responders. Studies have shown that interacting with animals can have a positive impact on these stressors and more.
The month of May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, and Mason helps highlight the need for mental health and wellness services dedicated to first responders.
Compared to the general population, first responders experience higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress, burnout, anxiety, and other mental health issues.1
- In law enforcement, one study found a more than 20-year difference in life expectancy compared to the average American male.2
- 2% of female career firefighters and 38.5% of female volunteer firefighters are at risk for depression.
- It is estimated that 20-25% of all first responders experience post-traumatic stress.3
- Over 60% of EMS professionals report they don’t have enough time to recover from one incident before being called to another.4
Compound these statistics with the stigma around mental health that pervades many departments, as well as the added stressors of family life, increasingly complex cases, and more, and you can see why morale, recruitment, and retention challenges plague public safety departments across the country.
You can read more in a recent opinion piece penned by Dr. Anna Courie, Director of Responder Wellness at FirstNet, and Chief Christopher Remillard of the Dunbarton, NH Police Department.
As part of FirstNet, Built with AT&T’s ongoing efforts to bring mental health resources to public safety, we have seen comfort dog programs have a positive impact around New England.
Last year, we collaborated with the Maine Bureau of Emergency Communications on their statewide comfort dog program. Baxter, another Labrador Retriever, has since undergone his training and will be joining the agency full-time this Spring. Baxter will provide health and mood-boosting benefits to Maine’s Emergency Telecommunicators, and to the community.
Baxter and Mason come from our work with Hero Pups, a New Hampshire-based organization that has paired almost 200 dogs with local veterans and public safety outfits.
Also last year, we worked with the South Kingstown Police Department in Rhode Island to support their comfort dog program. Since then, their dog Leo has made a major impact on the community and the wellbeing of officers in the department.
FirstNet recognizes the need for resources focused on first responder health and wellness. To amplify and support first responder health and wellness efforts, FirstNet established the FirstNet® Health & Wellness Coalition. We support programs and partnerships across New England that bring mental health tools directly to our local public safety heroes.
This Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to recognize the need for more robust health and wellness services for New England’s first responders. Whether that is a comfort dog program, training opportunities or an emphasis on modeling health behavior from the command staff, creating supportive, open environments help build safer departments and safer communities.
If you or your department would like to learn more about FirstNet’s first responder health and wellness resources and services, visit https://www.firstnet.com/community/health-and-wellness.html
1 Purvis, M., Fullencamp, L. & Docherty, M. (2020). Animal Assisted Therapy on Law Enforcement Mental Health: A Therapy Dog Implementation Guide. Bowling Green University.
4 Bentley, et al, 2013; https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/dtac/supplementalresearchbulletin-firstresponders-may2018.pdf
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