Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service has welcomed a four-legged recruit to service to help with the mental wellbeing of its staff.
Olive, the three-year-old cocker spaniel has become the country’s first Oscar Kilo 9 accredited, fire service wellbeing and trauma support dog, having successfully completed the suitability assessment. This appointment comes just as we recognise World Mental Health Day on 10th October.
Firefighters and staff often face challenging and traumatic situations, but no fire service in the UK has yet employed an Oscar Kilo 9 accredited wellbeing dog, until now.
Olive, wearing her official ‘OK 9’ wellbeing jacket, takes up her new position within Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Wellbeing Team, who already offer a range of services and support to colleagues. Olive can now be called upon to spend time with colleagues who are feeling despondent, have attended a difficult job, or are suffering from stress or trauma.
Dogs are renowned for increasing oxytocin and serotonin levels in humans and can contribute to lowering blood pressure. They are perceptive to different emotions in humans and have an innate ability to recognise anxiety and stress. While some police forces already have wellbeing dogs, Olive is a first for the fire service nationally.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer at Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service, Rob Porter, said: “It’s important that we encourage our staff to talk more openly about mental health, especially those who are operational and attend sometimes harrowing incidents. Olive will help to create a calm environment where people will feel more relaxed and able to talk freely, so we can effectively support individuals as needed.”
After a difficult start in life, Olive showed her soft nature and gentle temperament to now handler and ‘best friend’ watch manager Mark Foster. Olive had been born in a puppy farm, where she was kept in poor conditions and suffered ill health before being seized by the police under the Animal Welfare Act.
She was taken to animal rescue charity, Animals in Need in Northamptonshire where she started her rehabilitation and where Mark met her in August 2020. He said: “I was looking for a dog that showed emotional intelligence and had the characteristics needed to help support colleagues in the fire service when under immense stress. I knew immediately that Olive was perfect.”
Mark’s instinct was right, as OK9 assessor, and Director of Advanced K9 Solutions, which provides training on safe and competent handling of aggressive dogs, Phil Robson, said: “Olive is a natural, she has a lovely temperament and loves being fussed. After a hard start in life she will undoubtedly shine in her new career. Mark and Olive will be a credit to the wellbeing team at Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.”
Oscar Kilo is the home of the National Police Wellbeing Service and has been accrediting police dogs as Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dogs since the organisation’s launch in 2017. As part of this network of dogs, Olive and Mark could eventually be deployed to support emergency service personnel nationally.