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Bend therapy dogs bring relief to weary firefighters

Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:24:36 AM CST
Updated On: Aug 18 2013 12:51:51 AM CDT

NewsChannel 21's Grace Joyal visits with three Bend therapy dogs and their owners who traveled to visit weary firefighters in southern Oregon, offering them a special encounter.

BEND, Ore. -

Just sitting with Boo and Elliot for a few minutes instantly puts you at ease, so for those firefighters working 18-hour days, the result is immense.

The two Bernese Mountain dogs spent part of last week comforting firefighters at the Whiskey Complex Fire in Douglas County.

"It's very smoky. There people are living in one-man tents," dog handler Glenda Peirce said Saturday. "They're away from home for at least two weeks; they work 14-18 hour shifts. They're exhausted."

It's a match made in heaven for Glenda and Greg Peirce's five and seven-year-old pups.

"The dogs get a sense of satisfaction," Greg says. "They do know this person is stressed."

When the Peirces took the pair to the fires last week, they spent 10 hours over four days visiting with firefighters.

"They come out of the mess tent, and they see these dogs sitting there, and they give them a bug hug and cry in their shoulder after a stressful day," Greg says. "This is their down time."

Greg says this is new in Oregon. He hasn't heard of therapy dogs visiting fire camps, and firefighters are taking notice.  

"They've heard of dogs helping victims, but they've never heard of digs helping the actual provider," he says.

The duo first tried this out last year, when a friend invited them to the Pole Creek Fire near Sisters, where the reception was the same.

"They love talk -- not about the fire, but about their dogs," Glenda says. "They ask if they can show us a picture if their dogs. It's a relief, because dogs give unconditional love."

It's a love well-received by the men and women risking their lives to keep us safe.

Therapy dogs are a fairly recent but welcome arrival in hospitals and nursing homes, where the stroke of a loving animal's fur and its wagging tail can brighten spirits and lives. But this is a new role entirely.

The Pierices  two Bernese Mountain dogs and Connie Lane's Belgium Malinois were invited to visit the Whiskey Complex Fire, which has burned some 12,000 acres and is still only 55 percent contained after three weeks, with nearly 500 firefighters on the lines.

Here's how the fire's information officer described the visit on his blog (the story and more photos are at http://whiskeycomplex.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/therapy-dogs-visit-fire-camp-7-8-august-2013/):

"Firefighters and fire support staff welcomed the loveable dogs as they prepare to complete the 14-day fire detail this weekend," he wrote. "As is standard, incident management teams rotate after two weeks to mitigate fatigue from the long hours and continuous work shifts required in incident management."

"Therapy dogs are trained and certified to visit with a variety of people and to not react to strange scents and loud noises, among other attributes," the article said.

"The dogs frequently visit community care facilities and hospitals. However, their owner/trainers have also taken them to other fires, such as the Pole Creek Fire in 2012. The dogs are available to visit other fire camps in the vicinity, and there are other dog trainer/owners who are willing to share their dogs with firefighters".

"Our thanks for the long drive and effort to share the therapy dogs with our fire camp. A friendly dog smile and hug with a loving canine provided a welcome, warm fuzzy."
 
Peirce said Friday it's been very rare for therapy dogs to visit the site of major disasters, such as fires or earthquakes, but the practice is drawing favor.

"You know, the firemen are awfully lonely -- a two-week stretch away from home," he said. "When the firemen come back from the line at 5 or 6 at night, after 18 hours, all they want to do is crash. And there's a dog there they can hold and play with. (They) want to hug this dog as hard as they can."

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