Service Dogs for First Responders

A fellow paramedic here in Hartford, Greg Shovak runs a great educational program called EMS and PTSD – Learning from Combat Veterans to Understand PTSD.  I attended one of his sessions a few years ago and thought it was excellent.  I learned a lot of PTSD, and also had my first introduction to service dogs.

Here is his organization’s facebook page, which has lots of great information:


Service dogs are not just for combat veterans, but also for first responders.  Several of the medics I work with (including Greg) have them and they often bring them to CMEs.  Their dogs are awesome and that means something coming from me (see my dog history below).  I can see how the dogs bring them great comfort.

Greg has been a true leader in helping those in EMS recognize and seek help for their PTSD.

Here are a couple articles he recently wrote on PTSD, including one that mentions his own service dogs.

The above photo pictures Greg with his dog, Petey. 

Here is an great article about service dogs all first responders should read:

K9s for Warriors – because Together We Stand

It is important to understand that service dogs are specially trained, and are different from therapy or regular dogs, although all dogs can provide needed companionship.

Difference Between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs


Me, I am not a dog lover myself. I would much rather deal with a six foot eight three hundred pound crazed patient on PCP than walk within fifty feet of a pit bull. In Hartford, pit bulls are the official city pet. Once I climbed up a stairwell in a public housing complex only to come up to a landing to find myself eye to eye with a bone the size of a bear femur and sleeping next to it, a pit bull the size of a large wild board. I went back down the stairs very quietly. I don’t even like little chihuahuas, who are also popular in Hartford. Big dog, little dogs — please lock your dogs up in the bathroom.  Please!

When I was a little boy I lived in Turkey (true story) where packs of wild dogs ran in the streets of Istanbul. Giving them biscuits and patting their snouts was not advised. When I was five and now living in America, a neighbor’s poodle came into our yard and sent me running. My older sister stamped her foot and yelled at the dog and the dog turned tail and fled. She laughed at me as I stood there behind a tree with a pounding heart. That summer on an Indian Guide trip, while riding my bike with other members of our tribe, a rogue German Shepard picked me out of the herd as if I were a baby wildebeest, leaping at me as I pedaled furiously.  His teeth sank into my butt, tearing my jeans and leaving a two large red abrasions. As if I weren’t traumatized enough, a few years later, a family with a German Shepard named Stormy moved onto our street. The owner, a large cruel man, kept the dog in a big cage in his garage. In evenings he would let Stormy out to run. Several times I was caught out on the street and Stormy would chase me down as I ran frantically for home. His smirking owner would command him to get away from me.

Later in my late twenties, my girlfriend had a runt dog named Elizabeth, who was the only dog who’s picture the local humane society put in the newspaper two weeks in a row seeking an owner to spare the dog from being put to sleep. She was an older dog by the time I met her. I learned to love “Bibs.” I would take her on walks and scratch her head which she loved. Sadly, she got tumors and started having seizures. After the seizures she would be full of energy. You could hold up a cookie over her head like a Seaworld trainer and she would leap up into the air to snatch it. She often got confused after a seizure and would escape and wander aimlessly down the street. I would have to chase after her and carry her home. My girlfriend finally had to take her to the vet to be put down, but that afternoon she came back with her on a leash. She couldn’t do it. A month later she went to the vet again, but this time returned alone. It was very sad.

Several years sago, I promised my daughter she could maybe have a dog when she turned ten. She just turned eleven and no dog yet, although she still wants one particularly after visiting with her cousin’s dog. Her older sisters had a dog about fifteen years ago, but their mother ended up being the one to take care of the dog until she finally gave it away. With our work schedules, I worry about who would take care of a dog, feeling like the burden might fall upon me. Right now I work 72 scheduled hours a week. Maybe when my schedule slows down, I might be able to take on a dog. My daughter and I are very close, but having gone through it before with the other daughters, I know she will soon drift away from me, and like Puff the Magic Dragon, I will be alone again. Maybe someday I will get a dog. When I was a kid, the Monkees had a song. “I’m Going to Buy Me a Dog…Cause I need a friend.” We go into the nursing homes and some of them have resident therapy pets. I see how happy the dogs make the older residents. Companionship is essential to life.  

I guess I could see myself having a dog someday.  I don’t know what kind of shape life and EMS will have me in by then.  Maybe a service dog or maybe just a regular old man’s best friend.  Either way, I am opening to the idea.




Here’s a link for a petition to require the VA to offer service dogs to veterans with PTSD.

Require the VA to provide service dogs to veterans in need

For many a service dog can mean the difference between life and death, between feeling a part of the world, and alone.

Stay safe out there.


Greg’s second article mentions Patrick Lollar, a former medic with us, who is now a standup comedian in New York City.  He uses comedy to combat his PTSD.  Check out this great set!






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