Therapy dog

Bert Absher, director of operations for Lifeguard Ambulance’s East Kentucky branch, hugs Jojo, the agency’s new service dog.

Lifeguard Ambulance has a new canine team member.

Jojo, a 22-week old Standard Goldendoodle, was brought onto the team last week.

Her work in Floyd and surrounding counties comes as part of a national therapy and support dog program offered by Lifeguard’s parent company, Global Medical Response. The company started the program in Texas in 2016 and expanded it nationally in 2017.

Jojo is the company’s 23rd service dog and she’s the first service dog assigned to Kentucky.

Bert Absher, director of operations for Lifeguard Ambulance’s East Kentucky branch, said he was interested in bringing the program to Eastern Kentucky to help local first responders.

“Our first responders ... they encounter tragedies every day, almost every shift. Sometimes, they take on an iron-clad personality for many years and things like that don’t bother us. But we always remember that one call or that one incident that was just hard to deal with,” Absher said.

He explained that Jojo is “a puppy in training,” and, once fully trained, she’ll learn to recognize anxiety and “high stress situations” among first responders and provide them comfort.

“The goal is to have those dogs wherever our folks are,” he said. “Maybe they’re in a critical incident stress management team. Maybe it’s been a situation where they’ve encountered a traumatic fatality or a child fatality or a SIDS-related death. It’s good to take Jojo into those situations. Her personality is quite infectious. You can’t be unhappy around her. But to just bring her in and let her comfort those folks who are maybe having a tough day, it’s good to be able to do that.”

Jojo lives with Absher and his family and she accompanies him to work nearly every day. She is being trained at a facility in Lexington.

“She’s really taken on this role much better than we anticipated,” Absher said. “She’s made herself well known, everywhere we go. But the whole purpose, the vision, is simply to support our EMT and paramedic’s mental health needs. We want to utilize these dogs on a personal level. We deploy them where ever they’re needed ... It just seems like it’s impossible to be in a bad mood anywhere she’s at.”

He said Jojo comforts him during stressful time.

“She has such a desire to please the people she’s around,” he said. “She’s very well behaved, very well mannered dog.”

Absher brought Jojo to the Prestonsburg City Council meeting this month. She “hugged” several city employees and officials during that meet and greet. “That is her personality,” Absher said. “She just loves to latch on and hug people.” She’s expected to be fully trained in about a year, Absher said.

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