Venice Fire Rescue swears in newest 4-legged member, ‘Misty’

VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) – Venice Fire Rescue has welcomed a new member to the team. Her name is Misty and she is a two-year-old English Cream Golden Retriever.

The new station dog was sworn into her post last week at Venice City Hall. Misty is specially trained to sniff out stress hormones and respond to help ease those symptoms.

New station dog joins Venice Fire Rescue

K9s for Warriors out of Ponte Vedra trained Misty as part of their “Station Dog Program.” The nonprofit has provided service dogs to disabled veterans for years, but along the way, they’ve learned there’s a great need for more dogs like Misty among first responders.

“We understand what the struggle is of that lifestyle. It is a high-stress lifestyle. It is constantly exposing yourself to traumatic events and high levels of trauma and the vicarious trauma that you experience as a 20-year career law enforcement or first responder is substantial,” said Director of the Station Dog Program for K9s for Warriors Greg Wells. “I think we are in that stage, where it is not universally accepted yet. I think after some research is done, and some numbers are put down on paper, I think it will start to be more universally acceptable,” he said.

Venice Assistant Chief of Fire Kyle Hartley says he has been hoping to get a therapy dog for the fire department. He says what greatly helped was receiving Misty from the nonprofit free of charge, so there was no burden on the city’s taxpayers.

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“There are studies that have proven that dogs actually help relieve stress, they drop the body’s response of stress hormones,” Hartley said. “Over a career of a firefighter, what we are learning is actually very detrimental to their mental health. This is just part of a puzzle of the fire service in general trying to alleviate those issues of mental health that grows overtime throughout someone’s career.”

Meg Ross is a first responder ambassador for the First Responder Hope Line for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. She says the agency is working to reduce the stigma tied to first responders and law-enforcement officers reaching out for help for mental health challenges.

“What the firefighters experience on a regular basis is just trauma after trauma, and they are fortunate if maybe they only have one call a night, but it is going to be a trauma call pretty much guaranteed. Their ability to come back and come together as a group is a support, but again they don’t have these healthy avenues of dealing with that trauma. This therapy dog is an opportunity to have a healthy resource for them to deal with some of those traumas in a non-stigmatizing way,” said Ross.

Assistant Chief Hartley said he’s already noticed the change Misty has brought to the city’s three fire departments.

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“Whenever I bring her into a station, the temperature, the temperament in the station automatically drops, you see the stress levels drop; you see it actually happening,” said Hartley.

Looking ahead, they plan to bring Misty to nursing homes and hospitals. She will also respond to certain calls to help comfort families dealing with a traumatic situation.

Donations from community partners will cover Misty’s veterinary visits and any future medical costs. Venice Fire Rescue is accepting donations for dog food and toys at Venice Fire Rescue Station 52, 200 Grove Street North, Venice, FL 34285.

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