News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Sublimity fire dog provides therapy for first-responders

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Emergency calls can take quite a toll on first-responders such as police officers and firefighters.

A new program is using therapy dogs to assist with the mental health of first-responders, with Oregon’s lone participant headquartered in Sublimity.

Probie, a 2.5-year-old golden retriever, is based at the Sublimity Fire District, but he goes all over the state to assist first-responders. He’s been to Central Oregon, to Lakeview for the 2021 Bootleg Fire and in the fall of 2020, he was deployed repeatedly in the Santiam Canyon for the series of wildfires that plagued the region around Labor Day 2020.

“For fire service this is brand new,” said Amber Cross, Probie’s handler. Probie lives with Cross and her husband, Brent in Sublimity. Both Crosses volunteer with Sublimity, while Amber also serves as a supervising deputy with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office in Salem.

“I wear multiple hats,” she said of her duties.

During the Beachie, Lionshead and Riverside fires, Cross, Probie and retired Hillsboro fire chaplain Steve Brodehl were constantly on the job.

“He knows the alert tones,” Cross said. “He’ll hear the alert and run to the front door. We would load him in his crate and off we’d go. We would show up at 5:30 a.m. at the Beachie command post at Chemeketa, we’d visit the crews and try to lift up their spirits. It was a very stressful time.

“He always was happy to see the volunteers. After a tough call we’d sit on the floor and de-stress and he’d be right there with us. 

First-responder therapy dogs are given credit for assisting with a wide range of health issues:

• Reducing stress and anxiety

• Lowering blood pressure and slowing breathing

• Improving overall mood and mental state

• Increasing productivity due to better mood and mental state

“Firefighters might not want to talk about a tough call, but they’ll pet a dog,” Cross said. “When you are working with mental health for first-responders each person reacts differently.”

The first-responder therapy dog program got started in California, and they now have 30 certified teams in ten states. 

Probie was the runt of a litter at just 13 ounces and in early life was called Survivor. The name Probie refers to the one-year probationary period for fire district volunteers. 

In a bit of eye-dropping coincidence, he and Cross share a July 11 birthday.

“The stars just aligned,” she said.“It has been an incredible adventure.”

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