Medstar EMS implementing therapy dog program

John Jones introduces Medstar’s newest furry recruit, Oliver.
John Jones introduces Medstar’s newest furry recruit, Oliver.
Photo by Jessica Vaughn

SUMMERDALE - As Medstar EMS continues to grow in Baldwin County, so does its new recruits. One of the newest members of the team is approximately eight-weeks old, tiny, golden, and furry. Oliver, a goldendoodle, recently joined the Medstar team as the first member of Baldwin County’s therapy dog program, and the 21st addition to the program overall.

“When Medstar became a member of the Global Medical Response (GMR) family, we were introduced to a therapy dog program that had been started,” said Director of Operations Mike Sandell. “The program was very beneficial to American Medical Response (AMR) and we think it will be very beneficial to us here in Baldwin County, and neighboring communities as well if the need were to arise.”

AMR started the program in 2016 out of Texas, and the first employment of therapy dogs was in 2017 during the mass shooting incident in Las Vegas. The purpose of the program is to help first responders cope with the daily stress stemming from their line of work. Oftentimes first responders suffer from PTSD, or may find it difficult to speak with a stranger about their own mental health during a trying situation. Studies have found that therapy dogs are a great way to help first responders feel comfortable and calm their nerves. Goldendoodles were found to be a great match for the program, being hypoallergenic and intelligent.

“The dogs begin as a puppy in the program because they’re most susceptible then to training and learning the needs and stress levels of the first responders,” Sandell said. “The vision of this program is the dogs support and address the needs of the EMTs’ and paramedics’ mental health needs.”

John Jones, Medstar’s Administrator Supervisor, is the primary handler for Oliver, with Terri Lewis, Operation Supervisor, the secondary handler in place of Jones. Both have been with Medstar for over ten years and have taken classes in the therapy dog program prior to becoming Oliver’s handlers.

“Oliver is enrolled in his long endeavor of classes so we can ensure that he’s properly trained and will be beginning those soon,” Sandell said. “We’re ecstatic over the program, and appreciate the opportunity that AMR, GMR, and Lifeguard all afford us. We’re looking forward to a successful venture with Oliver.”