‘Dogs for Dispatch’ brings stress relief to emergency call dispatchers

Bay County

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — The Bay County Communications and Dispatch Center has some new faces and wagging tails, as a new program is bringing dogs on the staff as volunteers.

“They’ll be coming up here on a regular basis and they’ll just kind of rotate through and have a meet and greet with everybody,” said Brian Hardon, Bay County Emergency Management’s Communications Division Chief.

While it doesn’t seem like the place for a dog to be, staff said they’re more than happy to have them there, through the new program called “Dogs for Dispatch.”

“It’s something as simple as petting a dog, it just changes everybody’s spirits” said Dixie Westbrook, an assistant dispatch supervisor. 

“They can look at you and for some reason, dogs know when a person’s having a bad day,” said Hardin.

The idea came when Bay County dispatchers had a particularly bad day, after answering the recent, heart-wrenching call when a baby was left in a hot car and found dead.

“After a call like that the whole mood in dispatch changes,” said Westbrook, who assisted on the call. “You can walk but it’s still there and it just hits.”

It’s trauma difficult to explain, but someone was there that day who didn’t need any explanation to understand.

“She came in, and it was immediate,” Hardin said. “You could tell there was a difference in the room.”

Clementine the golden retriever was there with her owner, Alan Ford, who is a Bay County firefighter and EMT.

“I know what it is from the field perspective to have a very stressful call,” Ford said. “With that experience I know that puppies and dogs do really help.”

Seeing the dispatchers’ response to Clementine led supervisors to agree; having dogs in the room helps. Now, there are five dogs who volunteer to lend a paw.

“Just having that little bit of brightness in the day with everything that we listen to in here is very welcomed,” Westbrook said. 

Ford said he’s proud to share the joy that Clementine has brought him with others.

“I love it,” he said. “It excited me and I look forward to any chance I get to offer that to someone else as well.”

As the dogs bring happy faces and stress relief to a place where it’s much appreciated, staff said they’re excited to see where the program goes.

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