Phoebe — a one-year-old golden-doodle — traveled more than 2,700 miles across the country from Virginia to the Snoqualmie Fire Department last month. But the long trip was small in comparison to Phoebe’s role at the station.
The therapy dog, described as friendly with a calm demeanor, will be a live-in firefighter stress reliever.
The day-to-day life of an emergency responder is full of stressors that can weigh heavily on a person. A study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that firefighters and policemen were more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. In 2017, more firefighters died by suicide than any other job related death.
“It’s not uncommon for us to go from a fatality car wreck to a CPR house fire and just have it stacked on in one shift,” Lt. Jake Fouts said. “For us to be able to come back and just sit and love on Phoebe, it’s just amazing … the feeling you get when you connect with an animal.”
For the last month Phoebe has been hard at work being “loved on.” As a therapy dog her desire is to be a companion and love people. Every morning at the station she displays her affection at the round table, where she goes person to person, greeting everyone and ensuring they get a few minutes of her time.
The program that brought Phoebe into the lives of Snoqualmie responders was spearheaded by volunteer firefighter Lorrie Jones and firefighter Matt Mundy.
“We wanted to think outside the box for a new way, something different that may help the day-to-day life of the firefighters,” Jones said.
Jones knew that dogs tend to lower blood pressure. She knew dogs make people happy. It was a simple online search of “therapy dogs in firehouses” that put her on the path to a Fairfax piloted program, one that showed success.
In 2017 three K-9s were welcomed into the lives of East Coast firefighters. Fire Station 32 in Virginia adopted Wally, a fully trained and certified golden-doodle therapy dog. Xander came to Fire Station 17 and Belle joined the Behavioral Health Office.
Now Phoebe is the first of her kind in a West Coast fire station setting.
K-9 Caring Angels donated Phoebe to the Snoqualmie Fire Department and have placed therapy dogs with soldiers, veterans and first responders. The Snoqualmie Firefighters Association, along with donations, paid for Mundy and Jones to travel home with Phoebe from Manassas, Va., where the organization is located.
Her upkeep will be funded by the Snoqualmie Firefighters Association and donations from local businesses Love Bug Pet Boutique, Open Farm Dog food, the Pooch Place, Salish Veterinary Hospital and the Snoqualmie Valley Pet Parlor.
Before Phoebe arrived, work was done to prepare her for the fire-house setting. Jones sent along an audio file of their alarm tone to aid with training the pup. Now when the station siren goes off, Phoebe knows to quickly nestle inside her kennel.
“When tones go off and the rigs get dispatched, all we have to say is ‘Phoebe home’ and she goes into her kennel,” Fouts said. “She’s in her safe spot and she knows where she has to go when we get a call.”
But there’s some things you can’t prepare for. Phoebe, coming from a farm in Virginia, had to adapt to the sounds, smells and sites of the station. This meant her first day of Dec. 16 was spent on a leash, exploring her new permanent 24/7 home.
She also had to adjust to her much larger family.
“Typically when a dog meets a family it’s usually three or four people,” Fouts said. “This family is 10 times that size, so it took some adjustment, and she’s still learning.”
The adjustment is a two-way street. Some at the station have always been big fans of dogs, having grown up with K-9s in their childhood homes. Others had little experience with the animal and wouldn’t typically engage with a dog. But Phoebe has worked to win them over.
“They’re sitting on the floor with her playing and they’re disconnected from work and they turn into different people,” Fouts said. “It’s happier people in the station.”
Even having only been in the station since mid-December, Fouts has noticed a difference.
“From my own personal stress level, I’ve noticed a change,” Fouts said. “She forces me to get out of the office, to disconnect from work for a few minutes and just focus on her and take her out and play with her. That’s been enough for me to kind of relieve some stress.”
In her daily routine, Phoebe is likely lounging about in one of her four dog beds throughout the station, or out at public events. When large groups of visitors tour the station or when she’s out at gatherings, Phoebe’s sporting her red work vest. Her name is prominently displayed on back and when she wears it. “She knows she’s working,” Fouts said.
Having the dog at the station also means firehouse residents alternate taking her outdoors at least five times a day. They work to exercise her on a regular basis and get her interacting with other dogs, “so she’s not just a working dog full time,” Fouts said.