Two Labrador retrievers specially trained to support firefighters with post-traumatic stress or high-level anxiety are set to join the Los Angeles County Fire Department Tuesday as part of a new program.
Donated by Thor’s Hope Foundation in partnership with Performance K9 Training, Inc. and the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, “Milo” and “Echo” were specially selected and completed hundreds of hours of intense specialized training to support firefighters in a variety of situations and settings. Echo is a 3-year-old yellow Lab who began her career as a service dog helping a Marine who struggled with PTSD and severe night terrors. Milo, also 3, is a chocolate Lab trained by David Greene, who has represented the U.S. on four world competition teams.
Trainers say the dogs can assist by both identifying individuals experiencing increased stress and comforting them. The first two dogs to join the department’s new Peer Support K9 Program, both canines have already been deployed to assist firefighters and first responders on the recent Bobcat Fire.
Over the last five years, the number of firefighter suicides nationwide has surpassed the number of line-of-duty deaths. As Los Angeles County firefighters face an unprecedented wildfire season and increasing call loads as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, union leaders and management say mental and physical health concerns are paramount. The addition of peer support dogs is intended to help first responders manage stress and anxiety during large-scale incidents and extended deployments.
The department already has more than 130 human firefighters trained to support their colleagues. The Peer Support Team has been deployed locally and in mutual aid incidents, including the killing of Long Beach fire Capt. David Rosa, the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, the Route 91 Harvest mass shooting in Las Vegas and multiple line-of-duty deaths for first responders nationwide.