Edmonton

A helping paw: Delray the dog supports Alberta paramedics

When Delray responds to a call, it’s the paramedics who are the ones that get a helping hand — a helping paw, actually.

'It really opens the doors of communication'

Delray travels across the province with his handler, helping paramedics after challenging calls. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

When Delray responds to a call, it's the paramedics who are the ones that get a helping hand — a helping paw, actually. 

Delray is a five-year-old black Labrador that supports paramedics through Psychological Awareness Wellness Support, playfully abbreviated as PAWS, a program offered by Alberta Health Services.

Delray and Erica Olson, the program coordinator, travel across Alberta to talk with paramedic crews after a challenging call, teaching them about the impact of the job on their mental health.

He is a calming force in the room, Olson said. A connection with Delray can offer paramedics a morale boost or help them process information.

"His job is to actually be a natural dog, but to be comfortable enough to do that in a lot of different environments," Olson told CBC's Edmonton AM.

CBC host Mark Connolly gets some puppy love from Delray during an interview on Edmonton AM. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

The feedback from paramedics has been overwhelmingly positive, said Olson, who is also a paramedic.

"Anything from, 'this was the best part of my day,'" she said, "to 'thanks for bringing a support that makes me see how much AHS and EMS care about my psychological health.'"

Olson said Delray is social and resilient — a perfect combination for the job. He always seems to muster the energy to support another paramedic, even after a long day of meetings.

A Canada-wide survey found first responders were four times more likely to develop a mental disorder than the general population, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

It's important that Alberta Health Services show paramedics it's investing in their mental health with initiatives like PAWS, said public education officer Kaylee Pfeifer.

"It really opens the doors of communication when people can see that there's something being done," she said.

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