UT Health EMS brings in service dog to help employees with work stress

UT Health EMS brings in service dog to help employees with work stress
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 8:20 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2023 at 8:22 PM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - First responders often face high levels of stress. To combat that, UT Health EMS in Tyler is bringing in a new team member.

Apollo Wiggins, a 34 pound labradoodle, is changing the atmosphere at the workplace.

It all started last October when owner and AIR 1 flight nurse, Kristi Wiggins learned about other EMS agencies that bring in therapy trained animals to counter the stressful work environment.

“We see some of the worst of the worst. We get to see really fun people, but usually on their worst day and that really brings us down eventually. We try to hold our heads up and have a good attitude, but it really does get to you after a while.” said Wiggins.

Wiggins brought the idea to UT Health EMS CEO John Smith who was all aboard.

“Every time he comes in, he walks in your office, you’ll pet him, he’ll go on. It just changes whatever you’re thinking about at the moment. Those who love pets, it can brighten your day for sure.”

Apollo will roam around in the classrooms and offices throughout the building. Crew members will even stop by Wiggins’ office after a tough day.

“When they’re ready they get up and leave and a lot of them will comment at the end, ‘I just needed this before I went home to my family.’ So it’s really calming for them.”

Other services are provided to help their employees manage stress, like having licensed mental health professional Brenda McBride. But she says having Apollo brings a different type of stress reduction for the team.

“From the science, we know that animals are very calming to the nervous system, part of our mission is to care for each other and this is one way that we’re doing that.” said McBride.

EMS is the only department at UT Health to have this kind of emotional support for employees.