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Mich. First Responders Train with Service Dogs

Sept. 24—The Cascade Township Fire Department recently hosted a training session to get future leader dogs familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of emergency situations.

Led by Leader Dogs for the Blind, the session on Sunday, Sept. 23, at Station No. 1 focused on three to six puppies under one year to help familiarize them with emergency personnel.

The Kent County Sheriff's Department and Life EMS were also present to expose the future leader dogs to the sounds and smells that might occur during an emergency.

"Introducing puppies in a calm, friendly and encouraging way will help them recognize emergency personnel and the scents they carry as good, not scary, even if confronted in a future situation," Shelley Strobel-Erhardt, puppy counselor for Leader Dogs, said. "Less stress on a service dog helps assure they can focus on their person and not be defensive or upset if emergency personnel have to 'get personal' with their human during a crisis situation."

During the session, the dogs were able to approach and investigate a fully geared responder and police officer. Additionally, the dogs were able to get into an ambulance, fire engine and sheriff's car in an effort to become familiar with smells and sounds, as well as emergency horns and sirens.

According to Strobel-Erhardt, both fire suits and police officers have unique scent traits dogs can pick up on long before these responders arrive to a situation.

"We know that service dogs are much more likely to be exposed to emergency personnel than pets—and often their exposure is during an intense situation," Cascade Fire Department's Lt. Andrew Albright said. "We are proud to support these types of trainings, and appreciate the exposure and education it provides to our team regarding what to do and how to respond when a service dog is present during an emergency call."

In an effort to provide it clients with a life of independence and mobility, Leader Dogs for the Blind provides services free of charge, which includes guide dog training, accelerated orientation and mobility training and summer experiences camp.

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