Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services (MFES) has added a furry member to their Wellness-Fitness Initiative (WFI) team, Ajax – a facility dog who will support Mississauga firefighters’ mental health and help them process trauma. MFES is the first fire service in Ontario to have an accredited facility dog for their personnel.
“We’re beyond excited to welcome Ajax to the City of Mississauga family. Our furry friend will provide comfort to our fire team and promote open and honest conversations around mental health,” said Mayor Bonnie Crombie. “As a leader in first responder mental health services, we’re hoping to set an example for other municipalities to follow. In the short time that Ajax has been on the job, we’ve already seen his uncanny ability to break barriers and encourage our firefighters to speak more freely about how they are feeling.”
Ajax is a new resource who will help MFES staff by normalizing difficult conversations, reducing anxiety, alleviating fears as well as encouraging firefighters to speak openly about their experiences and stressors. Ajax is inclusive to all staff, not just the first responders of MFES. He will also assist the Peer Support Team when they visit MFES staff.
“Ajax will not only help our staff with stress relief but also provide them with the mental health support they need in a high-stress environment,” said Tim Beckett, Mississauga Fire Chief. “We want our firefighters and staff to understand there’s no shame in asking for help. Having Ajax will provide the team the emotional comfort they need to get through difficult experiences.”
The City of Mississauga also offers a Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) training program. The program helps firefighters address stigmas and identify the signs and symptoms of occupational stress injuries. The R2MR training program uses a mental health model that identifies signs and symptoms associated with four stages of functioning: healthy, reacting, injured and ill.
Ajax was generously donated to MFES by National Service Dog where Ajax was bred and trained for two years. Ajax will provide Canine Assisted Interventions to those who need support and has already started making a positive impact with MFES staff.
Ajax graduated from a National Service Dogs (NSD) for the purpose of reducing stress and providing mental health support by enhancing the ability of people to speak openly while providing emotional comfort in a high stress environment.
Facility dogs are specially trained to provide goal directed interventions which promote improvement in physical, social, emotional or cognitive abilities. A facility dog is directed by a professional with specialized expertise. These dogs may work in a variety of settings, groups or individual in nature. When not at work, the dog lives with their primary handler as part of their family.