Everyone knows that a bad day can quickly improve with the appearance of a furry friend. Emotional support pets are appearing with increasing frequency, but where is the science to back up the necessity of these creature comforts?
Questions like that have been on the mind of Emily Craig, a 2018 graduate of CSULB’s Master of Science in Emergency Services Administration (EMER) program. As a Senior Emergency Medical Specialist at the Riverside County Fire Department, she is well aware of the stress that results from the intense situations, sleep deprivation, and repetitive mental anguish that first responders often experience. Without positive methods of processing these experiences, firefighters can often fall prey to negative behaviors including drugs, alcohol, and even suicide.
To help combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in firefighters while earning her EMER degree, she devel-oped a thesis entitled “Crisis Comfort Canine Intervention of Firefighters with PTSD.” It was initially considered controversial, since there was no previous research on matching support dogs with firefighters. But there was valuable data regarding dogs and military veterans, who share similar experiences and rates of PTSD with firefight-ers, so Craig was able to make a correlation between the two populations.
“Professionally, my thesis is finally coming to life within my fire department,” Craig explains. “The Crisis Comfort Canine Program will be the first of its kind in the U.S. Our Volunteer Reserve Firefighter program has grown to have either Complex Therapy Dog teams or Crisis Response Dog teams deployed to incidents to help combat PTSD in our first responders.”
Craig acknowledges that her tenure in the EMER program provided the skills and confidence she needed to pursue such a singular project. All of her courses had a direct application to her job and personal life. For example, Craig shared information from her classes on leadership with the Executive Management of her fire department; while her writing and critical thinking skills have impacted policies and educational plans in her workplace.
Each of her EMER professors had a big influence as well. Dr. Douglas Weeks helped Craig to finesse her thesis from a basic idea to its final version, and Jude Colle helped expand the project by offering expertise in the mental health of first responders. In later stages, Valerie Lucus-McEwen encouraged Craig to network and present her work at the International Association of Emergency Managers Conference in Grand Rapids, MI in 2018, where Craig’s project poster received a gold ribbon award.
“My poster created quite a bit of interest,” said Craig, “and I have received phone calls from different organizations such as FEMA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other fire departments looking to establish dog programs for their personnel.”
None of this would be possible without her canine companions Star and Henry, as well as their expert handlers. Together, their important contributions are helping to save the lives of those who save others.