Column: A facility canine for Sudbury is important – not a unnecessary distraction

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First responders are people – not robots. Often times, we carry the weight of these calls long after the call has ended

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Especially for The Sudbury Star Delray is an accredited facility dog ​​at EMS Callingwood Station in Edmonton.  File photo Delray is an accredited facility dog ​​at EMS Callingwood Station in Edmonton. File photo Ian Kucerak / Postmedia

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By Alison Archambault

Coun. Michael Vagnini’s comments in The Sudbury Star (“Column: Facility Dog Is Not Worth It, Says Vagnini,” Feb.22) about employing a facility dog ​​revealed a lack of appreciation and knowledge of one of the most emotionally and physically challenging Jobs out there.

Many things were missing from Coun. Vagnini’s comments, starting with not thanking Sudbury’s firefighters for their service. On behalf of your brother and sister’s first responders across the country, we thank Greater Sudbury Fire Services for your dedication and the safety of your community.

I am a first responder. I have suffered occupational stress injuries (PTSD) several times in my career. Some are cured in the short term, others have spanned decades.

I work for a traumatized fire department that understands PTSD. We have a team of officers trained in interventions, and the wonderful community we serve in supporting the mental health of firefighters provides significant resources.


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It is an honor and privilege for first responders to support our community members when they call for help. First responders are people – not robots. Often times, we carry the weight of these calls long after the call has ended.

A screening test, like Coun. Vagnini suggests, couldn’t have predicted how incidents in my personal life would clash with my first responder life, nor how I would react to scenes to hold dead children in my arms and comfort destroyed family members after a fatal car accident, or a school friend of mine Seeing a child is at the heart of our lifesaving efforts.

It is often not a single call, but rather the cumulative effect, call after call, month after month, year after year, that has devastating effects on the mental health of first responders.

Coun. Vagnini’s answers ignore industry studies that recognize mental health in first responders, and the likelihood of being affected by PTSD is unique and largely unpredictable for each individual.

Our society has made strides towards open conversations about mental health in recent years. Coun. Vagnini’s suggestion that Greater Sudbury Firefighters and Firefighters could be stronger if members were better pre-screened is diminishing and cruel.

Specially trained facility dogs for first aiders who are at risk of injury from operational stress due to trauma are specially trained. During their two-year screening, training, and certification by an Assistance Dogs International-accredited training organization, more than a dozen people are involved in curating the breeding, health, training, evaluation, evaluation, and placement of each animal to ensure they have a unique intervention for the teams they support.


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Specially trained first aid facility dogs who are at risk of operational stress can identify trauma anxiety before members can see “what’s wrong.” The animals can act as an “early warning system” allowing human medical teams to intervene much earlier, reducing pain and suffering for the firefighter and his family.

For first aiders with active injuries from work-related stress, specially trained facility dogs offer individual firefighters on-site resource support and joint debriefings after the event, during which traumatic stress can penetrate and fester.

I have raised and trained 12 service dogs for National Service Dogs (, the organization that provides the facility dog ​​for the Greater Sudbury Fire Department. My current service pup – National Service Dogs’ Ember – spends a lot of time in the fire station where I work. From a young age, Ember was at the fire station, interacting with members on shift and after phone calls. Learn how to interact with members, attend debriefings, and be able to identify signs of stress and trauma.

While Ember is not intended to assist the Greater Sudbury Fire Department after completing training, it becomes a valuable asset as part of an intervention team.

The decision to provide a facility dog ​​to Greater Sudbury Fire includes in-depth discussions with NSD about the type of support the fire department needs, how to care for the animal, handler training, on-site interviews, on-site visits, and the obligation to provide ongoing follow-up reporting NSD and recertification of the team as soon as it works.


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NSD is widely recognized across Canada for the visionary work of the team in helping veterans and first responders affected by PTSD with a customer focus. NSD’s client-first advocacy approach is unique in the industry. With the support of mental health professionals, an internationally recognized dog breeding program specially bred for dogs, and a skilled training team, NSD ensures that every facility dog ​​meets the highest certification standards to take life-saving and life-changing measures.

Facility dogs are specifically chosen for their resilience, calm, relaxed demeanor, and low drive. Your handlers will be trained to ensure they are sensitive to the dog’s continued physical and mental health, and care for them to ensure that the dogs lead meaningful and healthy lives.

Therapy dogs and popular family dogs warm our hearts and can provide insight into our emotions, but they are not specially trained to take life-saving measures.

To claim that the Greater Sudbury Fire Department’s facility dog ​​will have four dog handlers, a number proposed to inflict emotional trauma on the dog and affect the fire department’s human resources, is absurd.

First, the Greater Sudbury facility dog ​​will have two handlers who will be responsible for the daily grooming, training and planning of the dog. a primary and backup.

Second, the practice of multiple traders across North America is typical. It is a practice-accredited service dog organization that ensures that it is integrated into the animal’s working life to ensure that the handler is bound to another handler and to minimize the negative effects of an outgoing handler when a handler is around feels uncomfortable, has to move, etc.


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In contrast to valued family dogs with varying levels of emotional resilience, working dogs are examined and trained from a young age to ensure they can support multiple dog handlers.

I am sorry that Coun. Vagnini and others believe a facility dog ​​would be a distraction and a waste for the Greater Sudbury Fire Department and the entire community. I think the action is the least a grateful community can do to support the fire fighters who were there for them when they dialed 911 and stood next to them during some of the most terrifying times of their lives.

Alison Archambault is a volunteer firefighter, director of marketing, communications, and sales at the Calgary Zoo, former chairwoman of National Service Dogs, and current puppy breeder at Ember.

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