RAPID CITY, SD – This week is national Take Your Pet to Work Week, making your work day a little less “ruff”. But for the Rapid City Fire Department, Station One, it’s just another day at the “paw-fice”.
Rapid City Fire Chief, Jason Culberson has been bringing Dexter, a two-and-a-half-year-old Golden Retriever to work with him for the last two years after reading articles about the healing effects animals have on first responders.
Scientific research from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute shows that dogs and cats in the workplace have a calming effect, decrease stress, provide social support, increase our quality of life, lower blood pressure, increase oxytocin, strengthen the immune system, lower the risk of a heart attack, and can increase employee productivity and retention.
Doctors are now prescribing pets for their mental health benefits, teachers are incorporating pets in the classroom, and therapy animals are bringing comfort to ill patients.
“I’ve been reading a lot of journal articles about firefighter health and wellness and all of our medical support personnel and in just how the healing help of the dog,” said Fire Chief Culberson. “He brings up the mood whenever he’s here. He’s here every day now that I’m here. But yeah, you see that he brings a smile to everybody’s face. He walks down the hallway and you can hear people greeting him and giving him a pet and of course snacks.”
Dexter takes his job very seriously and is a different dog when at work than when he’s at home.
“He meets people at the door, he hears the door, front door buzzer, and he’ll go and greet everybody that comes in. And he has his certain times of the day that he knows when things are going on. That he’ll just get up from his bed and or wherever he sleeping, and he’ll go trot around to all the offices and get a snack. Or if it’s lunchtime, he hears them call for chow in the dining hall and he will get up and make his way back there,” he said.
Dexter’s other job duties other than providing stress relief for first responders is to make public appearances, and keep up his influencer status on his Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok social media accounts. He currently has 1,018 followers on Facebook, 232 followers on Instagram, and being new to Tik Tok has 27 followers. You can find him on all his social media sites at Dexter RCFD.
“The community’s responded really well. I mean, he’s not viral by any means, but he’s got over a thousand followers at this point and tons of engagement with the community. And every day surprising there’s new people coming to his page and checking out the antics that are Dexter,” said Chief Culberson. “I think people just like seeing how he interacts with our staff, with the men and women of this department and getting pictures of him with the fire apparatus and just things he does around here.”
While the Rapid City Fire Department has a search and rescue canine unit, Dexter was a guinea pig to test the effectiveness of the studies Culberson had been reading. He said it’s been a great success but advises other businesses interested in creating a pet friendly workspace to do some planning, being mindful that others may not appreciate pets as much as you do. He also believes that it’s important to have only well trained pets in the workplace.
“I find that having to have somebody that’s in not control but responsible for what he’s doing and his behavior is very important. And do your research, make sure you know what you’re getting into, because it hasn’t always been easy. Now that he’s two and a half, it’s a lot easier than when he was about six months old.,” said Chief Culberson.
Unspoken pet etiquette should also be discussed, such as, no growling at the boss or stealing coworkers lunches.
Culberson advises for a DIY doggie office kit to make sure you have lots of lint rollers on hand and other cleaning supplies, toys to play and chew on, a dog bed, food and water.
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute offers a handbook on their website as a guide for pets in the workplace.
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