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Therapy dog helps Mass. EMS providers reduce stress

AMR’s ‘Freddie’ helps EMTs, paramedics deal with traumatic calls


Freddie the emotional support therapy dog spends his days at American Medical Response headquarters in Springfield, where he provides support services to first responders and others. April 30 is National Animal Therapy Day.

Don Treeger/The Republican

By Jim Kinney

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Freddie likes to hang out where two hallways intersect at AMR — American Medical Response — on Cottage Street.

All the better to leap up — tail wagging, eyes alert — to greet people as they arrive or possibly head over to a classroom to make his rounds among the EMTs as they train. He’ll also mosey over to the folks responsible for taking 911 calls or visit the truck bays where crews pull in with ambulances.

“You might have had a long shift,” said Andrew Aldrich, an operations supervisor. “And you get back here, and there is a dog that is happy to see you and wants to play. It makes this seem more like a home.”

Freddie and handler Melissa Piscatelli, operations manager at AMR, met with reporters Tuesday to mark National Animal Therapy Day, coming up on April 30.

There are more than 400 employees at AMR’s regional headquarters here, including 911 staffers, paramedics and EMTs who head out in ambulances and drive chair vans.

All of them, the EMTs and paramedics especially, are subject to more stress than most workplaces, Piscatelli said.

“They see people on the worst days of their lives,” she said.

That’s why it’s important to have a bit of a stress reliever, a calming distraction, Aldrich said. Especially before heading into a important debriefing session after a major incident.

On Tuesday, Freddie, a 4-year-old goldendoodle, also got to help out teaching responders how and where to take a dog’s pulse (you feel under a rear leg).

Nero’s Law, passed in 2022, requires that EMTs at all levels complete a training course of at least three hours covering how to treat and safely transport injured police dogs.

Freddie also heads out to schools and community events. He’s visited Baystate Medical Center and gotten to know the therapy dog there. He’s good with children and likes to visit schools.

On the serious side of their work, Freddie and Piscatelli respond to mass casualty incidents, critical incident stress management debriefings, natural disasters and large-scale events.

They recently headed to a Police Department on Long Island, where officers suffered a loss.

“We will go anywhere we are invited,” said Piscatelli.

As his handler, Freddie goes home at night with her.

He’ll check in with Piscatelli at her desk during the day. But often it’s just a part of his rounds.

There are leashes at the doors. He knows if he goes by a door and sits, he’ll cajole someone into taking him for a walk.

Freddie arrived as a 12-week-old puppy in January 2020 , and his training involved basic obedience and getting accustomed to crowds and equipment — no small task during early COVID, when most places were shut down.

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