RESCUE — In El Dorado County, the Rescue Fire Department’s newest recruit is three months old, weighs 16 pounds and has one very big job: lending a helping paw to firefighters.
Man’s best friend is working double duty this holiday season.
Ash is a Bernedoodle puppy — a Bernese mountain dog and poodle mix — and she has taken on a big job as an in-house therapy dog for Rescue Fire.
“I just got to meet her today for the first time,” Chief Bryan Ransdell said.
Ash is part of the Paw Platoon Placement Program, which aims to help boost the mental health of first responders.
“She already knows how to just come up and just love on you,” said Shelley Martell, the executive director of Hearts 4 Heroes USA.
Martell started the nonprofit after seeing how taxing the job could be for fire crews. The four-legged companions came shortly after.
“It helps you with your stress, your anxiety, so many of the other triggers that happen in your body when you’re on, when you’re in that trauma,” Martell said.
So far, she’s placed five puppies with stations across the Greater Sacramento area with plans to have a therapy dog placed in every community.
The puppies have an immediate impact on the crews.
“I get so excited. Who doesn’t love a good puppy?” said Rescue Fire Captain Brett Jones.
These grown men and women who bravely face flames melt in the presence of a puppy.
“And that’s really the gift of it. It’s such a blessing to see them be able to decompress, right? To come in and feel that joy that an animal can give to you, that unconditional love,” Martell said.
While these first responders continue to protect their communities, these dogs will keep close guard of their hearts.
“Sometimes, you come back after a bad call, and you just need a smile,” Chief Ransdell said. “Ash will definitely do that for folks, and that’s what we’re excited about.”
Hearts 4 Heroes USA trains and covers the expenses for the paw platoon. The nonprofit said it costs about $38,000 over the lifetime of a therapy dog.