SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The Santa Barbara County Fire Department has welcomed its newest member to the team - Rhonda, who is the Department’s first emotional support canine.
Rhonda has received extensive training for her position. She was trained over a 9-month period to recognize signs of agitation, anxiety, and stress and interrupt those behaviors by providing affection and enabling individuals to express themselves in a safe environment.
Rhonda has an important role at the Department. She will help firefighters after emotionally challenging calls or with personal issues.
Firefighter Sam Dudley has been assigned as Rhonda’s handler. They will be together every day, both at work and at home.
Firefighter depression and PTSD rates are five times higher than the general population. Rhonda will help ensure Santa Barbara County firefighters are working at their highest potential and support the department’s efforts in sustaining long lasting, healthy careers.
Rhonda will be available 24/7 to support all area fire agencies within Santa Barbara County, with the possibility of being utilized statewide.
The Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance, with the help of donations from the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation and the Manitou Fund, purchased a Ford F150 XL pickup truck, specifically outfitted for Rhonda, to be used by the Department for transportation between assignments.
The Pet House in Goleta has also offered to donate all food for Rhonda, and help with grooming costs.
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department said it is very excited to welcome Rhonda to the fire department team and as a member of the fire family.