One way to help the issue of mental health in first responders? Recruit a furry friend.
Mental health has clearly been a problem in the United States for many years, and a lot of these cases come from military veterans. However, the mental health cases in first responders are flying under the radar and rising at an alarming rate.
As of now, 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions (SAMHSA). Firefighters develop these issues because they see things most people do not want to see, such as families going through difficult times first hand.
On top of all of this, they work long hours and get little sleep. Many places, like the Modesto Fire Department, have programs to help with mental health.
In the summer of 2021, the Modesto Fire Department invested in a facility dog named Hudson. Hudson was donated by a foundation called the Thor’s Hope Foundation located in San Diego. Hudson has gone through over 1000 hours of intense obedient training. Thor’s Hope Foundation started training with Hudson when he was 3-4 months old, and Modesto did not receive him until he was two years old.
Hudson’s handler is Captain Ruben Esparza. What does this mean? Even though the dog is owned by the Modesto Fire Department, someone has to take care of Hudson. This is where Ruben comes in. Captain Esparza is responsible for taking care of Hudson all day, everyday.
“For 48 hours straight, you have a higher heart rate and blood pressure. Hudson helps bring it down” said Captain Esparza.
Hudson’s job is to make the firefighters feel like they are the only one in the room and are special. He contributes to the family environment in the stations and lightens the mood.
While at work, Captain Esparza was able to train Hudson to go to his kennel whenever they get a call. Hudson cannot go on the Fire Engine because there is no way to secure him, so he was trained to be in his kennel for up to six hours without any problems.
When Ruben goes to work, Hudson is there with him. With this, there are some strict rules that Ruben and Hudson have to follow. For example, Hudson cannot form bad habits like begging for food. He also is not allowed on beds, couches, or chairs.
With Hudson being with Ruben 24/7, this causes a problem. That problem is that not everyone gets to see Hudson. Unless a firefighter works with Ruben, or set aside a time and date to meet him, their chances are not very high of seeing him.
Ruben said that there is talk about getting another facility dog that would likely stay at administration, so that other people would be able to interact with it. The dog, just like a human, would “work” Monday through Friday, 9-5. This would make it easier for not only firefighters, but people in the community to see the facility dog for whatever reason they have.
Mental health is not only a problem within fire departments, but also with other first responders and the military. The Modesto Fire Department is taking steps to help with mental health by recruiting Hudson, and maybe others will follow suit.
You can find Hudson on Instagram, @mfd.hudson, to follow his life and adventures.