Mich. EMS providers welcome 11-week-old therapy dog

The golden doodle puppy will soon begin training to provide emotional support to providers and patients


Justin P. Hicks
MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The West Michigan ambulance service AMR is welcoming a new member to its team, and she’s just 11 weeks old.

Hope, a golden doodle pup, recently accepted the job as the company’s emotional support and therapy dog. She’ll be responsible for providing support to the company’s EMTs and other local public safety agencies throughout the community.

Hope, an 11-week-old golden doodle, is AMR's new therapy service dog. Her handlers include AMR operations supervisors Dusty VanderMeer, left, and Carl Hartman, right.
Hope, an 11-week-old golden doodle, is AMR's new therapy service dog. Her handlers include AMR operations supervisors Dusty VanderMeer, left, and Carl Hartman, right. (Photo/Justin P. Hicks, MLive.com)

“Our medics have a very stressful job and this is a minor thing we can do to help take care of our people, who help take care of our community,” said Carl Hartman, an operations supervisor for AMR. “She’ll receive specialized training that will allow her to recognize stress and actually seek out individuals to provide comfort.”

Hope will begin her training March 20 with a basic puppy class, followed by a few additional classes through the summer and into the fall. Once she’s trained, she’ll be able to visit hospitals and care facilities throughout AMR’s service area, and will be available to local police and fire departments who require stress management debriefings.

The first response company chose a golden doodle because of their “temperament, intelligence and ease to train,” Hartman said. They’re also hypoallergenic, which allows them to be brought into medical facilities without concerns about allergic reactions.

Hope is the department’s first therapy dog, and the first of her kind in the state of Michigan. She’ll live with Dusty VanderMeer, an AMR operations supervisor, and most often work evening shifts with Hartman or VanderMeer at the AMR facilities on South Division.

AMR has a seatbelt harness, which will allow her to travel in the supervisor’s truck to see crews at their posting points or on calls/at the hospital after a difficult call.

Even before she’s been trained, Hope has gotten some work experience. Less than a week after she joined the team, she was with Hartman when he had to respond to a local hospital after a medic experienced a “violent encounter with a patient.” Hartman said the medic sat with the dog while debriefing with her supervisor, and was visibly calmed by the puppy’s presence.

“She’s a small but very visible component of the organization’s efforts to care for their staff,” Hartman said.

AMR started the process of getting a therapy dog in October 2019. On Monday, March 9, the department invited members of the local media to meet Hope — the “spunky" and "curious” young puppy whose high energy disperses as soon as someone holds her close.

“She likes attention and she likes cuddles,” VanderMeer said.

As for her name, VanderMeer said it wasn’t a difficult process.

“Hope just kind of stuck to us," he said. "When you look at what the program is all about, having hope for first responders that are struggling with PTSD, with stress in the work place ... We felt the name fit the program and fit her. She’s obviously a little sweetheart and we thought the name Hope fit pretty well.”

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©2020 MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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