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Billings firefighters receive help with stress from therapy dog

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Posted at 10:08 AM, Aug 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-25 12:08:47-04

BILLINGS - The Billings Fire Department's newest member has been on the job almost two weeks and already he's made a lot of friends.

Firefighters welcomed their first therapy canine in the department's 140-year history.

Winston, a 1-1/2-year-old Goldendoodle, is a certified therapy dog.

He's been on duty since Aug. 11.

"Everybody's loving him and he's playing around with everybody," said Cameron Ash, Billings firefighter.

Ash says firefighters stay calm during calls and the dog will help them decompress when they arrive back at the station.

"There can be a lot of stressors that happen throughout the day and being able to come back to the station and talk with the crews and have a dog to pet and hang out with really reduces stress for me for sure," Ash said. "And I'm sure it's the same for a lot of other people as well."

Winston reports for work at fire station one because his owner and handler is Deputy Fire Marshal Becky Biggins.

When he's away from the station, Winston spends a lot of time with Biggins' family.

"Just like we need breaks from this kind of environment, the therapy dogs need that break as well," Biggins said.

When he accompanies her at work, he is available to the firefighters.

"Stress levels in first responders do get increased because of the nature of what we see day after day," said Biggins. "And so having anything we can in our back pocket to help make life better is going to be important for sure."

Camilla McCullough, owner of Blue Creek Canine, donated the training for Winston and Biggins.

"As dog trainers, 95% of what we do is teach the person," McCullough said.

McCullough determined that Winston has the temperament and is a good fit for the department.

She guided Biggins in the training that led to Winston becoming a certified therapy dog.

"Your will heart rate will go down, your blood pressure will down and actually you just can just breathe," McCullough said. "And thereby de-stress. So in that regards, we actually have a physical reaction, subconsciously, to our dogs."

Winston is often with Biggins in the office and goes out with her to schools and other education visits.

"I'm grateful that I get to utilize him in that capacity as well," Biggins said. "He improves my day, every day."