Wheeling Fire’s First Therapy Dog Delta is Now on Duty!

Through a joint effort of the Wheeling Fire Department’s Peer Support Group and the City of Wheeling, the department now has its first-ever therapy dog, Delta.

Delta is a 7-month-old male purebred golden retriever who will be cared for by his handler, Wheeling Firefighter Ryan Loveland when not actively at one of the city’s fire stations.

Many organizations are turning to therapy dogs to help people who work in highly stressed environments, like first responders.

“The well-being among first responders’ mental health, especially over the last several years has become a priority,” Fire Chief Jim Blazier said. “There have been several incidents of first responders struggling and even taking their own lives in our region. We don’t want that to continue, and we hope Delta will be a good tool for our employees.”

Studies show that interacting with a well-behaved dog helps release serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine- the body’s ‘feel good’ hormones. The study also shows that the interaction reduces cortisol levels – the body’s stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and weight gain, and increase the risk of many health problems later in life, such as heart disease and cancer.

Delta and Loveland recently spent several weeks together training and getting acquainted at the K9 Responder Academy in Charlotte, N.C.

“Delta is a very calm and comforting pup. He is still getting used to his surroundings at the fire stations but has adjusted quickly and has been received very well by the department,” said Delta’s handler, firefighter Ryan Loveland. “We still have a lot of training ahead of us, but otherwise, he is very social and makes everyone happy.”

First responders work through many stressors daily, and with Delta’s assistance, it's hopeful those stressors can be reduced. Delta will visit the department’s seven fire stations when needed and can be brought in at any time when a stressful or traumatic event occurs.

Once the in-house training phase is completed with Delta, he will be made available to other first responders in the area who may need his assistance.

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