OCFD Launches Therapy Dog Program

OCFD Launches Therapy Dog Program
Worcester County students, Superintendent Lou Taylor and representatives of the Ocean City Fire Department are pictured with the department’s new therapy dog, Max. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – Officials this week welcomed a new therapy dog to the Ocean City Fire Department.

On Monday, elected officials, public safety representatives and Worcester County students gathered at the Ocean City Fire Department to welcome Max, a 20-month-old black Labrador, as part of the department’s new therapy dog program. Fire Chief Richie Bowers said Max will work alongside his handlers – Ryan Whittington and Ian Spice – to provide comfort and outreach to first responders, resort employees and community members.

“He will be able to provide any service that is needed and certainly will be able to educate on safety matters such as fire and injury prevention …,” he said. “Max is not just ours, he’s yours too.”

Whittington, the department’s community engagement officer, said Max recently completed 18 months of training and is well-versed in commands such as sit, visit, and lie down. Those skills, he said, will be used to help first responders, resort employees and community members.

“Therapy dogs like Max have been shown to have a positive impact on mental and emotional wellbeing, especially for those in high-stress environments like the fire department or police department,” he explained. “They can provide comfort and emotional support and be a source of distraction and stress relief.”

Max will also be used for educational and outreach programs that promote fire safety, officials say. The service canine on Monday even demonstrated his ability to stop, drop and roll.

“This dog will provide comfort and support to our first responders, helping to reduce stress and improve their overall mental health,” said Council President Matt James. “But this program is not just beneficial to our first responders. All members of our community and our town employees will have an opportunity to interact with therapy dog Max and experience the joy and comfort he will bring.”

He continued, “Whether it’s during a visit to one of our fire stations or at a community event, he will be there to bring a smile to everyone’s face.”

Whittington said the therapy dog program is one of many ways in which the department has prioritized the health and wellbeing of its first responders. In 2020, for example, the department launched a peer support team, a group of individuals trained to recognize emotional distress.

“I’m proud to say this is just the beginning,” he said. “Our department will continue to explore new and innovative ways to serve our community.”

Officials say the Ocean City Fire Department is seeking community donations to fund its therapy dog program. A fundraiser has also been scheduled for Feb. 17 at Seacrets.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.