Emergency crews in Central Alberta will have all four paws on the ground starting this fall.
PAWS is short for Psychological Awareness and Wellness Support; and Alberta's first PAWS team is comprised of paramedic Erica Olson and accredited facility dog Delray, the black lab.
Olson told 99.5 Drum FM the dog will visit EMS crews after traumatic calls to provide emotional support.
"They increase oxytocin creation, which is really positive because one of the stress hormones is cortisol and oxytocin can help decrease the amount of cortisol that's in your system," she explained. "Also, it's proven to lower your blood pressure and lower your pulse."
Delray and Olson will tour the Central Health Region, visiting various EMS units after they have responded to traumatic calls. The PAWS team will also make regular station visits to maintain morale, promote mental wellness, support members re-integrating back to work after taking time off for psychological injuries and raise awareness about mental health resources available to employees.
"We're one team and there's a lot of EMS providers in Alberta, so as we go through the first year, we'll do our activities in Central Zone, but across the province we'll be responding for some acute stress events," noted Olson. "When it works, we hope to expand and have more teams so that there can be more regular support in each zone across the province."
"It's something intangible and a little bit mysterious and that's the part that science, you don't need it for, you can see the results" added Olson. "It's really amazing to watch how special the bond is between humans and dogs, and Delray loves connecting with people that way."
The initial plan is to try PAWS in Central Zone for 12 to 18 months, then see if it can be expanded to the entire province.