Support Dog Brings Relief to First Responders

In a challenging time for first responders, a gentle nudge from a support dog named Scarlett brings reassurance to her team.

James + Scarlett

When James and his team of first responders started working with a dog named Scarlett in the Canine Assistance Support Team, the burnout was high. Now, Scarlett is there to comfort her team, help them better manage stress, and provide joy with every wag.

"The thing about first responders is that often we spend so much time helping others, we allow our own needs to go unmet. With our new CAST program, I am able to help my colleagues get some much-needed stress relief by having Scarlett around when they are at their lowest and need the most support."

A dog named Scarlett came into my life when I was struggling both personally and professionally. I was burnt out and contemplating leaving my career in public safety altogether. Then Scarlett visited my EMS department as the first canine to begin the Canine Assistance Support Team (CAST). As a team, we respond to critical stress incidents and provide comfort to those on the front line of public safety and healthcare.

Scarlett had been adopted through Companions for Heroes to start the CAST program at my department. At the beginning of this process, I had agreed to be Scarlett’s backup handler. As it happens, Scarlett ended up coming to stay with me and my family on her second day with my department. I was not keen on this idea. We already had a dog and I had gone back and forth about adopting a second but kept deciding it wasn’t the right time. 

Having Scarlett live with my family was supposed to be temporary, but I bonded with her almost immediately. It wasn’t long before we realized that due to this bond, I would become Scarlett’s primary handler and she would live permanently with me and my family.

When Scarlett showed up, she brought a renewed passion to me for helping others. I am in this field because I thrive on being able to help people. The thing about first responders is that often we spend so much time helping others, we allow our own needs to go unmet. With our new CAST program, I am able to help my colleagues get some much-needed stress relief by having Scarlett around when they are at their lowest and need the most support. 

Scarlett has brought so much joy and happiness to me and the hundreds of others she’s met over the few short months she’s been in this role. Scarlett is there to relax others and make them feel comfortable during a time when they otherwise would not be able to destress.

Personally, Scarlett has helped me deal with my own stress that comes along with the job. She can sense what I am feeling and knows exactly when to walk over and put her head on my lap. Her presence is calming with her pure adoration and love.

In a career where death and destruction are the norms and the taxation of health care providers is at an all-time high, Scarlett has a wonderful ability to help us remember that feelings of depression and anxiety are momentary, and a gentle nudge makes life just a little more bearable.

Each year, Petco Love Stories invites adopters to share how their pets have changed their lives to give the organizations that they’ve adopted from the chance to receive grant awards. This story by James won Companions for Heroes in Saint Simons Island, Georgia a 2021 Love Stories award.