Wednesday morning’s intense rain did not stop first responders from celebrating the arrival of the newest member of the Valley Regional Medical Center family, Goji, a service dog that will provide healthy, emotional and mental reset to the frontline workers.
“She is here for the mental health of the first front-line providers positions, EMS personnel, and just by visiting the personnel, I want to increase the morale, increase the mental health and just help them feel better,” Sharla Dillman, director of EMS relations, said.
“She walks into a room and she puts a smile on people’s faces. They get excited to see her tail wag and she gets excited, that’s what I want. I want them to feel happy and know that they’re supported. Mentally, we are here to support that as well.”
Goji will reside with Dillman and is expected to have a working life of at least 10 years. At 2 years old, the black Labrador is living her best life at the hospital and at Dillman’s residence.
“COVID hit, so they delayed it a little bit. And they also have to match perfectly the dog and the handler by personality. So, we had to wait for the perfect dog for me, and actually she is amazing,” Dillman said.
“I have four other dogs at home. They play, they run and she’s kind of fast so my puppies sit there and wait for her to pass by. I have a farm, so she runs around and loves it.”
Mariana Whitley Tumlinson, director of community and public relations, said the process to get Goji took about two years but that it is perfectly timed due to the mental health stress the front-line workers have been going through due to the pandemic.
“It took two years and I think the timing is perfect because right now we are focusing a lot on our colleagues’ mental health after the year that we’ve had,” she said.
“I think that Goji has been a perfectly-timed gift to our staff, who is going to help manage a lot of the mental health issues that we’ve all been facing over the past year because of this pandemic. It is another ray of hope that she brings to our facility.”
Goji comes from Service Dogs Inc. a non-profit that has existed for 33 years and trains dogs to help deaf people, people with mobility-related challenges, first responders and to help children who have to testify in court about trauma.
“It’s wonderful when it’s a win-win situation. The dogs come from shelters or from a guide dog school where they did not complete the training,” Sheri Soltes, founder and president of Service Dogs Inc., said.
“So, the dog gets a second chance of life and then the person gets a lot of physical and emotional benefits from the dog and so does their community and their family. For first responders, the better they feel, and the more focused they are, the better they can take care of the patients and each other when they are out on the job.”