Therapy dog ​​helps dispatchers at Covington 911 Center cope with stressful work


COVINGTON, Georgia. – A mixed-breed dog helps a group of Newton County first responders with a job that is often emotionally stressful and stressful.

Covington-Newton County 911 officials have used the skills of a trained therapy dog ​​named Annie since August to help her staff answer some of the many emotionally draining calls they receive, the manager said. Trudy Henry.

“His mere presence had such an impact on dispatchers,” she said.

“When they come in to work now and they see Annie, they are smiling, happy to be there,” she said. “His presence just brings a different attitude to the radio room.”

911 operators often have to make an effort to obtain accurate information from worried and sometimes frantic callers at the scene of an act of violence or a car accident, and then relay the information to authorities – on top of that. tell someone how to do CPR or how to handle a stabbing until paramedics arrive.

Annie also helped relieve stress for staff members who were forced to take on extra work that would likely be done by others if all available positions in the department were filled, Henry said.

It only has 21 positions filled out of a total of 33 positions in the ministry’s budget, Henry said.

Having an understaffed department is part of a trend for public safety agencies as employees seek less stressful and more numerous jobs than in recent years, Henry said.

“It’s the stress of the new world we live in,” Henry said.

She said the past two years had at times been “traumatic” as staff members faced the pressures produced by the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to their regular dealings with county residents in tragic situations.

“I guess over the last couple of years we’ve had a few incidents across the county – dramatic calls – that have affected dispatchers. Someone or the other who takes the biggest calls takes the biggest burden. “she said.

Henry said she was not personally a “dog person,” but saw how some dogs that others had brought to visit the center affected the work of dispatchers in her department.

She said she saw how the support dog of a former 911 dispatcher visiting the center helped change the “attitude” of staff.

This led Henry to consider having a therapy dog ​​live in the 911 center to help staff during their round-the-clock work, she said.

“I just knew it was something to consider,” Henry said. “Seeing the difference it made and seeing the calming effect – just being able to get a hold of the dog and being able to pet it just changes a person’s perspective.”

She said one of her dispatcher’s goals in 2020 was to have a full-time therapy dog ​​in the center.

“When they started this, I was like, ‘This is never going to work,'” she said. “As time went on, and then with the arrival of COVID and the pandemic – the mental stability of our people – we saw that it was probably the right time.

“You just have to look at how a dog can change a person’s attitude and perspective and somehow the way they feel (I thought) there might be something to that,” said she declared.

After using another therapy dog ​​for a while, Henry said she found out that Annie and a former staff member helped find a program that trained her to become a therapy dog.

Annie was from Covington-based Oval Office Therapy Dogs, which breeds and trains dogs for use as therapy and assistance dogs.

Henry said Annie had lived with her for some time before the golden-doodle – a mix of golden retriever and poodle – moved to the 911 center. The pandemic and some other factors – such as a reorganization of the center – have caused disruption in the schedule for introducing a therapy dog, she said.

“Things had been on hold for a little while,” said Henry.

However, Henry said she was able to get approval from the city and county governments before bringing in Annie to support the 21 staff.

Annie began to settle in both as emotional support for 911 staff and in public appearances representing the department, which is jointly managed by the governments of Covington and Newton County.

Henry said that Annie used to come home with her every night, but that Annie usually doesn’t like to leave the center for any reason.

“When I go up and pick her up in the middle, she gets angry when I put her in the car,” Henry said. “She will turn her back on me and not look at me.”

But Annie generally becomes friendlier as she adjusts to meeting strange people, Henry said.

His travels have included accompanying Henry to meetings at Covington Town Hall and the fire department. She also supported Henry during presentations to civic groups like the Kiwanis Club.

She also recently visited Georgia State University’s Newton campus for an educational session for criminal justice students on the benefits of therapy dogs, Henry said.

She said the 911 Center was working to get Annie’s American Kennel Club certification as a therapy dog.

The certification test includes the ability to ignore outside influences, such as children playing nearby, and focus on the person the dog is responsible for supporting, she said.

“She received her behavioral training,” Henry said. “The therapy part comes from the way she treats people and the way she interacts when she’s with people.”


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