Column: Facility dog not worth the effort, Vagnini says

Dog as pets are equally capable of stress mitigation for firefighters and paramedics, councillor says

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By Michael Vagnini

Due to problems that I and others continue to experience with the virtual technology used for council meetings, I am using this method of expressing and sharing my input on a motion to acquire a facility dog for the community safety department. I am submitting this column in lieu of speaking at the Feb. 23 council meeting.

UCLA Health research referenced in the motion is related to the clinical use of therapy dogs, not facility dogs used in field applications.

The motion is equivalent to fighting malaria-bearing mosquitoes at night with the windows open and no screen. While some success may be achieved, it doesn’t accomplish much compared to prevention in the first place.

The National Centre for PTSD, operating under the auspices of the US Department of Veteran Affairs, in co-operation with numerous research facilities, published a paper in 2017 that was authored by two researchers from the University of California. The paper offers considerable insight into the problem of post-traumatic stress disorder. You can read it at bit.ly/3qO9m3g.

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There are numerous medical and scientific reports, which are readily available, that indicate prediction of PTSD susceptibility is possible from both mental and physical indicators. These indicators can be applied at the time of employment application, thus avoiding the future creation of suffering.

The reports indicate exposing afflicted patients repeatedly to stressful conditions causes early onset of cardiovascular disease, organ failure and health impairment, including diabetes and early death, with medical intervention having minimal benefit.

Efforts should be made to detect susceptible personnel before employing them. Inevitably, some will get through and develop PTSD. Addressing the affliction would require removing them from further exposure and assisting them in accessing stress mitigation/management and physical health monitoring/treatment.

A facility dog cannot achieve a level of stress mitigation commensurate with that of a therapy dog, dedicated to the individual, especially if multiple handlers are involved.

In 2018, MDPI Publications published a scientific paper from three researchers at the University of Queensland. The paper offers real-time research of more than one handler for service dogs with supportive documents from 37 other sources. It is available at bit.ly/37DxTk1.

The shift schedules used by fire services would result in multiple handlers for a facility dog. Research from the University of Queensland, as well as numerous other studies, indicates multiple handlers are detrimental to the objectives, while creating stress and anxiety in the dogs. That can only be viewed as animal cruelty.

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High-stress jobs should source employees with minimal susceptibility to PTSD, who have their own dog at home. Dog as pets are equally capable of stress mitigation, providing mitigation on an individual basis with none of the stress or anxiety that multiple handlers creates.

Management’s goal should be to eliminate the toxic workplace culture that has existed in the department for many years, which adds significantly to job-related stress.

After considering the scientific and medical evidence, the minimal benefit, if any, cannot justify stress-abusing the animal. I respectfully suggest the effort be directed towards well-known issues that can be addressed by employee qualifications and workplace culture management.

I trust my constituents will understand the position I have taken.

Michael Vagnini is the city’s Ward 2 councillor.

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