911 turns to puppies to relieve dispatcher stress

A special program in Fayette County is aimed at helping 911 operators deal with stress on the job by pairing them with a puppy.  It’s called Headset Heelers. The dog comes from the county animal shelter and will be up for adoption later.  

It’s a job where stress and burnout are taking a toll, according to experts. Chaplain Frank Mercer can tell you. He counsels the Fayette County dispatchers every day. He was there for the first day of Headset Heelers, a program that will use shelter puppies to relieve stress in the 911 center.

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“This is a very hard job,” Mercer said. “People call on the worst day of their lives or sometimes the last day of their life or the last day of a loved one’s life. These dispatchers are the lone voice in the night. They are the first, first responder.”  

Fayette County 911 came up with the idea and approached Fayette County Animal Shelter Director Jerry Collins. When a puppy was found abandoned at a local shopping center and came into the shelter, he knew he had the right first pup for the program.

“She already had a tough life and she needed someone to care for her,” Collins said. 

They will start by giving her a name.  Then she will spend the next four weeks in a foster program with the dispatchers.  

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“We recognize that this is a stressful job,” said Amber Smith, Assistant Director of Fayette 911. “We are trying to provide our staff with every available resource to deal with that stress.” It was Smith who came up with the idea.

The puppy benefits, too. She will learn valuable social skills and training. When she is eventually adopted out, Jerry Collins says some family is going to get a great dog thanks to the love and care she got in this program.

“What better way to help the dog and the staff than with this program?” Collins said. 

After the dog is fostered here, she will eventually be up for adoption at the Fayette County Animal Shelter in about two months.

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