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Local agencies building mental-health assistance for firefighters

Michelle Stern (left) of First Responder Therapy Dogs introduces Pippin to Tiburon Fire Protection District firefighters Grant Euless, Dalton Locke and Charles Amour at Station 10 on Paradise Drive on Aug. 31. (Elliot Karlan photo / For The Ark)

When strike teams from the Tiburon and Southern Marin fire protection districts were dispatched last month alongside crews from Marin, Sonoma and Contra Costa counties to help fight the Six Rivers Lightening Complex about 25 miles inland from Eureka, they were joined by a special addition: Kerith, a certified crisis-response therapy dog.

The golden retriever was stationed at the incident-command base camp and would spend time with fire crews, many of whom were working 16-hour shifts battling the blaze in rough terrain, after breakfast.

The four-legged companion provided a boost for firefighters on site, Southern Marin fire district battalion chief Jason Golden said in a statement on behalf of the district’s seven-person wellness committee, which he leads.

“Having a therapy dog at base camp is a positive interaction because it helps remind firefighters of what home feels like. It also gives firefighters something to look forward to when they are away from their families for weeks,” he said. “Being away from home can mentally be challenging, so interacting with a therapy dog helps inject the mind with positivity.”

Four-year-old Kerith is one of 65 therapy-dog teams deployed across 13 states by First Responder Therapy Dogs, a San Rafael-based nonprofit formed in 2020 after the Woodward Fire in West Marin. The dogs, accompanied by their human companions, visit fire crews, law enforcement, paramedics and dispatchers to spread some love and lend a helping paw in reducing stress.

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