Modern day fire dogs provide therapy, education
Editors note — This is part three of a three-part series about service dogs, and how people who train, work with, and benefit from man's best friend.
Long gone are the days when firehouse dogs ran alongside horses pulling a fire department’s wagon, but the tradition of four-legged comrades remains.
Molly and Rescue, two modern-day fire station dogs with the Arvada Fire Protection District, make their homes at Station 2, 5250 Oak St., and Station 5, 8100 Vance Dr., respectively.
Molly, who is about 3, was Arvada Fire’s first station dog and moved into the new Station 2 shortly after the crews did. She was adopted by Arvada Fire from Second Chance Jack Animal Rescue in Golden.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Arvada Fire Lt. Matt Berland. “Not only are you helping the dog, but the dog is helping you.”
Rescue, who is about 1, was originally sought by Urban Search and Rescue (USAR). He was chosen from an animal rescue to be trained as a search dog, but it was discovered that he uses sight to search instead of scent, so he was not the right candidate for USAR.
While Molly and Rescue don’t fulfill the same duties as traditional firehouse dogs, they still play an important role, both at the station and away.
“In the house, they do a lot for all of us,” said firefighter Mike Durr, who has shifts at both Station 2 and 5. “They’re there to comfort you if you’re having a bad day, and they bring the house closer together.”
Molly’s therapeutic instinct goes beyond her firefighting comrades, too.
“I’ve picked her up a few times when I’m working with youth that have been involved with fire play and using fire inappropriately, and we spend time having some hard conversations. I have the kids sit on the floor, and she’ll lay down with them and let them pet her,” said Arvada Fire life-safety educator Deanna Harrington. “It’s very comforting for them. I foresee her being a therapy dog, but not in the way people normally see a therapy dog.”
Molly recently received her Canine Good Citizen certificate from the American Kennel Club. The certification shows that Molly has basic skills and manners, isn’t aggressive, can be handled by her handlers and can go into public places, such as Jefferson County Public Schools for educational purposes.
Harrington said Rescue will pursue his certification when he is older.
Rescue is being trained by his firefighters to do tricks such as crawl to help teach children about fire safety.
“We want him to be something kids can recognize and be comfortable with,” said Lt. Dave Matus “We’d like to see him be able to crawl so we can teach kids how to crawl low under smoke and do those kind of things with them. He’ll be a working dog and be there to help teach kids and help them come out of their shells.”
Having Rescue and Molly available to help teach people is a real benefit, Matus said.
“A lot of time people can’t communicate really well, and you need something different,” Matus said. “If I have to talk to somebody and just can’t get through to them, there has to be another way. We can bring Rescue into it, and he can put people at ease and it’s a different way to communicate.”
Much like Molly, Rescue also provides a sort of therapy for the crews.
“That dog is never in a bad mood,” he said. “He never really gets angry, he just likes being around here,” Matus said. “If you really wanted to and had the energy, he’d go all day long. He has tennis balls, and we’ll throw it to the other end. I’ve done it as long as 25 minutes, and then I had to go get things done, but he’s still going.”
Both Rescue and Molly also attend public events with Arvada Fire.
“They’re a magnet,” Harrington said. “Everyone comes to see them.”
They even get to ride in the fire engine to events, and they love it, Harrington said.
While Molly and Rescue may not respond to calls, they’ve become part of the crew.
“The crews get together every morning to do a pass-off, and all the stations can see each other on the TV,” Harrington said. “They sit in their chairs, and Molly has a chair. She always joins them. There isn’t a morning she’ll miss.”
Molly has even become somewhat of the mascot for Arvada Fire, even having her own Facebook page where Arvada Fire posts animal and pet safety tips.
Molly has been with Arvada Fire two years this November; Rescue has been part of the crew since last winter.
Both dogs be seen at various public events where Arvada Fire is present.
To learn more about Molly and Rescue and for pet safety tips, visit Molly’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mollyfiredog.