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Therapy dog Dill helps ambulance staff’s wellbeing

THE Welsh Ambulance Service has welcomed its first wellbeing and trauma therapy dog.

Border collie Dill and Katie McPheat-Collins, Service Manager for the Emergency Medical Services across Central Wales, have become affiliated with the Oscar Kilo 9 (OK9) wellbeing and trauma therapy scheme, a UK ambulance first.

OK9 was launched in 2019 by The National Police Wellbeing Service, which aims to build on local police wellbeing dog services to make them available to all forces who wish to introduce a dog as part of their wellbeing provision.

Dill has passed the assessments set by OK9 and achieved all of the criteria to become a wellbeing and trauma therapy dog for the Trust.

Katie and Dill

Katie said: “Dill is a 10-year-old border collie, who was shared with me by a shepherdess, when Dill’s natural affinity to humans, not sheep, was identified.

“For the past six years, Dill has been, and still is, an operational search and rescue dog with SARDA South Wales, and she is a member of Central Beacons Mountain Rescue Team.

“However, her exceedingly gentle, calm nature and affinity to people lead to the recent assessment and subsequent role within the Trust.”

Dill’s integration is part of a broader programme of work to improve the health and wellbeing of staff and volunteers, providing a furry addition to the wider toolkit.

Katie continued: “We currently have police dogs affiliated to OK9, who visit stations and sites across South and North Wales, but there was a gap throughout the Central region.

“With Dill, we are able to focus on Central Wales, where crews especially from the smaller satellite stations may not be on base for a number of hours, and therefore not have the shared benefit of a canine visit.

“Dill’s support can be in the form of station visits to help with morale and stress, a presence during debriefs, or community engagement especially when connecting with young, elderly or vulnerable audiences.”

Sgt Garry Botterill, Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dog Project Lead with the National Police Wellbeing Service, said: “The OK9 scheme has proved to be extremely popular within the Police and Fire Service, and the number of Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dogs has grown to over 175 in the last 18 months. 

“We are delighted to welcome the Welsh Ambulance Service into the scheme, so that they can enjoy the many benefits of this structured, proven and effective wellbeing initiative.

“All emergency services deal with traumatic events and highly stressful situations.

“The Wellbeing Dogs help to bring some light relief to colleagues, especially following difficult incidents.

“We have found they help people talk more openly, and as the handler is a peer support trained colleague, they listen effectively and can sign post to the appropriate support if needed.

“I would like to thank Katie, Dill and the Welsh Ambulance Service for being the first in the ambulance service to pilot this scheme and wish them every success.”

Dr Catherine Goodwin, Assistant Director Inclusion, Culture and Wellbeing, said: “Dill has already been warmly welcomed by colleagues and I am so grateful to Katie for undergoing this training and introducing a wellbeing and trauma therapy dog to Team WAST.

“Staff and volunteers across Wales work extremely hard and it’s great to see wellbeing initiatives also reaching rural areas.

“Our workforce is constantly pushed to the limit, physically and emotionally, as is the nature of ambulance work, so having access to a range of support is vital.

“We have significantly expanded our occupational health and wellbeing service to get our remarkable people the support they need.

“I look forward to seeing Dill at events in the future.”

The Trust continues to explore other forms of animal therapy, to help staff and volunteers when they are having a ruff day.