The pandemic has created extreme stress for a number of professionals. The EMS paramedics with M Health Fairview are no exception. Kevin Kane, the Supervisor of M Health Fairview Ambulance Operations, said, “We help people and sometimes we forget that we need to take care of ourselves. Specifically, in the last couple of years with everything that’s been going on, it’s been unrelenting.”
So Kevin looked into a unique coping mechanism—an assistance dog. Learning that M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital would be placing Can Do Canines dogs in their setting, Kevin wanted to follow their lead.
When Can Do Canines assigned a yellow Labrador Retriever named Clayton with Kevin’s group, he became what is believed to be the first facility dog in the state to be a part of an EMS team.
Trained to help relieve employees’ stress with skills such as “visit” and “snuggle,” Clayton provides an outlet for the paramedics, or as Kevin sums up, a way to “fill your cup back up with good emotions.” Nicole Foster, an EMS Education Specialist and Paramedic with M Health Fairview, said in an interview with KSTP, “There are times when we can’t find our words to speak to others or maybe it’s just hard for us to find those words about what we’ve witnessed, and to have an animal to maybe not necessarily tell what is going on, but at least [feeling comforted] by them does help relieve some of that stress.”
Clayton lives with Kevin and goes to work with him at the Forest Lake EMS station, also frequenting the St. Paul location regularly. With about 35 staff members just at the Forest Lake facility, Clayton has his “paws” full. Kevin considers Clayton “a powerful tool to support our team’s mental health.”
In addition to offering support to these medical professionals, Clayton also participates in community events, including parades and demonstrations. For instance, when Clayton shows how to lie down on a stretcher and be moved into an ambulance, children are reassured that this experience does not have to be frightening and that paramedics are trusted adults. Kevin shares, “It just breaks down the barrier for them to want to talk to us.”
Describing Clayton as having a perfect balance of attentiveness and goofiness, Kevin knows that Clayton needs his downtime too. Together, they recharge at a lake cabin, and Clayton particularly likes the boat rides. Kevin explains, “He always does the Titanic thing in the front of the boat, you know, where his ears are flapping in the wind and all that.”
Yet, even when this team is all business, Kevin feels that being Clayton’s handler is its own reward. “This isn't doesn't feel like an extra job duty, “he says. “It's like something that I'm privileged to be able to do.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser — Rochester Federal Medical Center
Great Start Home — Judy Cochran
Whelping Home — The Nervick Family
Special Thanks — Rebeca Sharpe
Name-A-Puppy Donor — Fridley Lions Club