Lena and her Sheepadoodle Birdie are gearing up for base camps and fire season as a First Responder Therapy Dog team.

In this 48th episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I spoke with Lena, Associate Director on the board at First Responder Therapy Dogs, about her experiences volunteering with her Sheepadoodle Birdie at base camps, hospitals, and schools through Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) and First Responder Therapy Dogs

For Lena, becoming a Therapy Dog team is personal. At 10 years old, she was diagnosed with Chron’s Disease and spent quite a bit of time in children’s hospitals to receive treatments. While he was there, she was visited by Therapy Dogs and witnessed firsthand the positive impact they can make for kids. Additionally, she has quite a few friends who are first responders, so the ability to volunteer with police, fire and dispatch also holds a special place in her heart.

During fire season in Northern California, Lena and Birdie travel to base camps for 2-3 days at a time where they help provide emotional comfort to firefighters through pet therapy with Birdie. Even though it feels like a short trip, these visits require quite a bit of gear including shoes for Birdie and her First Responder Therapy Dogs vest as well as water, trading cards and a first aid kit in addition to the basics like food, bedding and shampoo to clean the smoke out of Birdie’s fur each evening.

If you’re ready to learn more about how Lena and Birdie volunteer with first responders, and how you can join them, let’s dive in:

In this episode, we discuss …

  • How Lena found out about Therapy Dogs through her own experiences.
  • What you can do to prepare your dog to volunteer with first responders.
  • Why helping first responders is personal for Lena.

Key moments you won’t want to miss:

  • [01:27] Lena shares that she and her Sheepadoodle Birdie have been volunteering together as a Therapy Dog team since May of 2021 and that they primarily focus on first responders.
  • [01:50] Lena first found out about Therapy Dogs as a child while she was in the hospital for Chron’s disease.
  • [03:16] Birdie’s primary role is to help take care of Lena after her previous dog Luke passed away and she realized how much having a dog had helped her with her flare ups.
  • [03:48] When Lena realized how much Birdie loves love, she decided to pursue training towards becoming a Therapy Dog team.
  • [04:42] Normally Lena and Birdie volunteer 3-4 times per week but right now they are volunteering once per week as they both recover from some stomach difficulties and are preparing for fire season in Northern California.  
  • [05:14] Lena had never heard of a Sheepadoodle before finding Birdie but has noticed that she seems them everywhere since bringing Birdie home.
  • [06:13] The first time Lena and Birdie tested they didn’t pass which surprised Lena but helped to guide her through additional training to help them reach their goals as well as to learn that mistakes aren’t the end of the world.
  • [07:17] Birdie became a Therapy Dog at one year and four months old and together they have completed over 100 visits.
  • [07:57] For Lena, working with first responders has been a huge honor and joy for her as she finds a lot of similarities between those they visit and herself in terms of mental health struggles and can see the impact they make.
  • [09:02] Lena briefly shares what it is like for firefighters at base camp during fire season in Northern California.
  • [10:28] Lena reminds everyone that your dog can’t talk and it’s your responsibility to understand and advocate for them.
  • [11:06] During fire season, Lena and Birdie are usually gone for 2-3 days at a time visiting base camps and she shares the gear that they bring with them on foot as well in the car including shoes for Birdie and paramedic kits.
  • [12:08] As an Associate Director on the board of First Responder Therapy Dogs, Lena makes a plug for teams to join their organization and shares a bit about what you need to know about registering through them including tips on how to repare for their observations by exposing your dog to sirens and other noises.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a watch or a listen and then let me know in the community which part you found the most helpful!

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Therapy Dog Talk is a podcast where I interview a different team each week via Instagram Live. If you enjoyed this episode please find us over at Apple, Google, or Spotify and give us a follow after you leave a review.

Do you know someone who would make a great guest? Be sure to reach out and let me know.

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