Studies show that approximately 1 out of every 5 firefighters suffer from the often debilitating effects of PTSD. Many firefighters report worsening mental health over the last year as the pandemic and social justice issues compound upon an already stressful job.
Now, thanks to one adorable pup, the Charlotte Fire Department is looking to change that!
A Hero’s Hero
Meet Lady Catherine, or Cat as her brothers and sisters like to call her. The only thing more adorable than Cat herself is the way her arrival to the ranks of Charlotte FD was announced.
Blaze, the department’s doggy mascot, announced that he would be a big brother in May 2020. For the last year, Cat has been helping the heroes among Charlotte’s platoons fight their own fires raging within themselves.
Everyone Is Equally Important On A Fire Crew
While Cat may not be holding the nozzle or pulling ceilings, she has an equally (and arguably more) important job. She’s a certified therapy dog, and her job is to make sure her brothers and sisters in blue are okay.
“As soon as I see her come out of the car “I’m like Cat, hey how you doing?’” firefighter EJ McCormick told Fox 46.
During her first year of service, Cat has visited all of Charlotte’s 42 fire stations and every shift at each of those stations! Plus, she’s also completed more than 150 wellness therapy visits.
How Does Cat Do Her Job?
Much like a firefighter’s finely tuned nose can smell the difference between an electrical fire or a brush fire, Cat’s nose has been trained to sniff out stress. She can literally smell stress hormones on humans, which signals her that her firefighter friends may need help.
“She doesn’t know what’s going on, she doesn’t know whether it’s problems at home, stress with your kids, whether it’s job-related stress, she just knows that you’re not feeling good,” said Cat’s handler, Rick Dunton.
When Cat smells stress, she will go over to that person and lean into them. Cat allows her body to kind of melt into that person so they can soak up all her love. This gives the firefighters a chance to release some of their pent-up stress and release those feel-good chemicals in their brains. After all, studies show that petting a dog or looking into their eyes releases serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin – the perfect brain chemistry trio for happiness!
Cat Also Helps Children In Her Spare Time
When Cat isn’t busy melting away her firefighters’ worries, she also helps the department with fire safety education. Kids love her, and she’s pretty amazing at keeping them engaged!
“If she can do the stop, drop, and roll, the crawl low under smoke, the feel the door for heat, going to a meeting place and sitting there and waiting for the whole family. If she can do all of that, they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives,” Dunton said.
What’s More Powerful Than Four Paws And A Wagging Tail?
The Charlotte Fire Department recognizes the need for addressing mental health among its members. They’re setting an incredible example for other departments when it comes to protecting their own.
“Mental health is part of your physical health, if you are not mentally healthy, it has all kinds of physical repercussions on you,” Dunton said.
The Charlotte Fire Department’s K-9 program is funded entirely through grants, fundraising, and donations. With that being said, they’ve been looking for ways to expand their K-9 program. What’s more powerful than four paws and a wagging tail? Eight paws and two wagging tails! Duh!
Recently, Cat became a big sister to another new therapy dog named Phoenix. Phoenix, a name that symbolizes someone rising from the ashes, has been busy showing her fire department family all the love they need to keep being heroes, and Cat has been busy showing Phoenix the ropes! This dynamic duo is changing the future for fire departments across the country, one fuzzy hug at a time.