Compared to the general population, first responders experience higher rates of depression, PTSD, burnout, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Therapy dogs have been well documented in literature to provide a positive impact on mental and physical health, improved coping and recovery, enhanced morale, and decreased stress. They also help support post-traumatic and emotional distress following disaster.
As public safety’s partner, FirstNet®, Built with AT&T has a responsibility to deliver for the first responder community. And that extends to addressing the health and wellness of the first responders we support. Consequently, in 2021, FirstNet announced ROG the Dog, an animal assisted therapy program launched by FirstNet Health & Wellness program to support public safety on the front lines.
Affectionately named after the FirstNet Response Operations Group (ROG) – the team led by former first responders that guides the deployment of the FirstNet fleet of dedicated deployable network assets – ROG the Dog is actually a fleet of over 30 trained Labradoodles who specialize in animal assisted therapy for first responders.
The ROG the Dog program came to life through a collaboration with Global Medical Response (GMR) who trained and deployed this group of therapy dogs, which are especially meant for times of crises following natural or man-made disasters. In 2022, ROG the Dog deployed 50 times in response to planned and disaster response requests.
So, what does a therapy dog deployment look like? Sometimes, ROG the Dog engagements are fun and light-hearted. When we send the dogs to various national public safety association conferences, it’s an opportunity for our first responders to learn about the benefits of a trained therapy dog and experience firsthand the difference of connecting with a furry support animal. Other times, the deployments are more somber experiences. ROG the Dog was essential in supporting our first responders during wildfires in California, the Kentucky Floods, Mississippi Tornadoes, and other natural disasters. ROG the Dog has shown up at line of duty death funerals, the loss of a responder to suicide and following a critical incident shooting.
Every time ROG the Dog shows up, he or she is creating connection, and connection is vitally important when dealing with mental stress. Connection bridges the gap when disaster and loss have a way of making an individual feel alone and isolated. It is when we are alone and isolated that hopelessness festers. ROG the Dog helps fill that space and create a place where caring and hope can grow.
While ROG the Dog is one of the most furry and lovable examples of how FirstNet is committed to the mental health and wellness of public safety, we’ve also learned that one of the most significant ways we address mental health is by living our purpose and commitment to public safety. Each one of us as that opportunity to reach out and connect. That connection is what bridges the gap of isolation in mental distress and creates hope. #LifeatATT means a Life of living with purpose.
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