Northamptonshire firefighters' new four-legged friend to help avoid mental health becoming a hot topic

Rescued cocker spaniel Olive is the first of her kind among UK's fire services

By Kevin Nicholls
Monday, 11th October 2021, 2:50 pm
Updated Monday, 11th October 2021, 2:52 pm

Northamptonshire firefighters have a new four-legged friend to help with their mental wellbeing.

Olive, a three-year-old cocker spaniel has become the UK’s first Oscar Kilo 9 accredited, fire service wellbeing and trauma support dog.

Olive's completion of suitability assessment coincided with World Mental Health Day on Sunday (October 10).

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And, if only she could talk, Olive could tell a few tales of her own after being born in a puppy farm, where she was kept in poor conditions and suffered ill health before being seized by the police under the Animal Welfare Act.

She was taken to Northamptonshire-based animal rescue charity, Animals in Need, where she started her rehabilitation before meeting her now handler and 'best friend,' watch manager Mark Foster in August 2020.

Mark said: “I was looking for a dog that showed emotional intelligence and had the characteristics needed to help support colleagues in the fire service when under immense stress. I knew immediately that Olive was perfect.”

Firefighters and staff frequently face challenging and traumatic situations but no UK fire service in the UK has yet employed an Oscar Kilo 9 accredited wellbeing dog, until now.

Olive's first day on the job with handler Mark Foster

Olive, wearing her official ‘OK 9’ wellbeing jacket, has taken up her new job within Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service’s Wellbeing Team, which already offers a range of services and support to colleagues.

She can now be called upon to spend time with colleagues who are feeling despondent, have attended a difficult job, or are suffering from stress or trauma.

Dogs are renowned for increasing oxytocin and serotonin levels in humans and can contribute to lowering blood pressure. They are perceptive to different emotions in humans and have an innate ability to recognise anxiety and stress.

While some police forces already have wellbeing dogs, Olive is a first for the fire service nationally.

Northamptonshire's Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Rob Porter, admitted: “It’s important that we encourage our staff to talk more openly about mental health, especially those who are operational and attend sometimes harrowing incidents.

"Olive will help to create a calm environment where people will feel more relaxed and able to talk freely, so we can effectively support individuals as needed.”