British Columbia’s 911 emergency call centre is the first in the country to add a registered clinical counsellor and assistance dog to its wellness team.
Lynn Gifford, a specialist in trauma stewardship, and Koltan, a four-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, were at Emergency Communication, known as E-comm, in Vancouver on Monday for the announcement.
“The day-to-day challenges of the job itself can have an impact on your mental and your emotional health, just through repeated exposure,” said Jasmine Bradley, communications manager at E-Comm. “So hearing the sounds of gunshots, or somebody being attacked, even just silence on the other end of the line, it can all take its toll on you over time.”
Bradley said E-comm has used therapy dogs in the past for major events like the death of Abbotsford Cst. John Davidson, who died in the line of duty in 2017, and is optimistic the program will be successful.
Koltan was bred and trained by the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society, known as PADS.
Tara Doherty, communications manager at PADS, says the organization breeds their dogs for health, temperament and resilience. She says it’s important for the animal when dealing with surprises and loud noises to recover quickly and handle a high-stress environment.
“They’ll come into a room full of people, and even if some of their favourite people are there, they’ll go straight for the person that maybe is having a hard day, or a tough day,” she says. “They kind of seek them out, so we’re looking for that natural ability. Koltan certainly has it.”
Doherty says it costs the non-profit $35,000 to train a dog, and they expect them to work 10 to 12 years.
Although Gifford and Koltan will be based out of Vancouver, they will travel to B.C.’s second emergency call centre located on Vancouver Island as they are needed.
The pair will be working full-time after the Easter weekend, but they won’t always be on the clock.
“At the end of the day they go home together, his vest comes off, he’s part of a family and gets to be a dog… and do all the things that a normal dog would do,” said Doherty.