Therapy dogs bring relief for Whiskey Complex firefighters

Canines help with stress of long days, tough work



Sam, a Belgian Malinois owned by Connie Lane of Central Oregon, pays a visit Aug. 7 to firefighters assigned to the Whiskey Complex wildfire.

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 Oregon’s Douglas County.

“It’s very smoky. These 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 big hug and cry on 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 dogs 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 to talk — not about the fire, but about their dogs,” Glenda says. “They ask if they can show us a picture of 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 Peirces’ two Bernese Mountain dogs and Connie Lane’s Belgian Malinois, Sam, were invited to visit the Whiskey Complex Fire.

Here’s how the fire’s information officer described the visit Aug. 8 on his blog (the story and more photos are at Whiskey Complex): “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 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…”