Therapy dogs help first responders cope with trauma

Broward County firefighter Dean Moreno became a therapy dog handler to help other local firefighters cope with trauma

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Therapy dogs have been around for years but more and more they’re being used to help first responders recover from personal and professional trauma.

When gunfire rang out at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6, 2017, Broward County firefighter Dean Moreno was one of the first on the scene.

“I could smell the gunpowder, the bullets I could see the casings on the ground, and then I could see the bodies,” Moreno said.

In the course of dealing with what he saw that day, and many others regularly on the job, Moreno wanted to find a way to help other first responders overcome emotional struggles.

He recently became a therapy dog handler with his 6-month-old side-kick Oscar.

“I’ve done a lot of research and it led me to where I’m at today with Oscar,” he said. “It has been medically and scientifically proven that dogs release a chemical called oxytocin in the brain which is similar to a nursing mother and an infant and it helps reduce blood pressure it helps reduce heart rate and it just makes people smile.”

Moreno and Oscar have teamed up with FHE Health which runs a first responder treatment program called Shatterproof.

“It creates an environment where they can get evidence-based clinical care, psychiatric care, and we even include neurotherapy which treats the brain working with complex trauma, mood issues and substance abuse issues,” said Dr. Beau Nelson, chief clinical officer for FHE Health.

Between his job as a firefighter and volunteer work with Oscar, Moreno’s days are full, but they’re also rewarding.

“The smiles, the compliments, that’s my therapy,” Moreno said.

Moreno recently received a $10,000 donation from FHE Health to cover the cost of a second therapy dog.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Jenise Fernandez joined the Local 10 News team in November 2014. She is thrilled to be back home reporting for the station she grew up watching. Jenise, who is from Miami and graduated from Florida International University, also interned at Local 10 while she was in college.