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Neenah-Menasha firefighter brings therapy dog to first responders, veterans

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 4:10 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2021 at 8:34 PM CDT
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Neenah, Wis. (WBAY) - A Neenah-Menasha firefighter saw a void among the help available for first responders dealing with the emotional toll of the job. So, he created his own solution.

Operation K9 Hero is the brainchild of Neenah-Menasha firefighter DuWayne Schwartz. He recently started the non-profit to help first responders and veterans.

“I’m passionate about the well-being of people in public safety and veterans, especially those with PTSD,” says Schwartz. “So, I wanted to find a way that would be less formal, something different.”

His something different is Tio. At nearly three years old, Tio is an emotional support dog. And, together, the two are now a certified therapy team.

According to Schwartz, “Really no words are needed. Dogs just offer that therapeutic connection, be the conversation started and the ice breaker of that, hey you’re not alone and that we’re here for you and just petting the dog and that kind of thing.”

Schwartz and Tio plan to visit places like police stations, fire departments, or just meet someone, who is struggling-- for a cup of coffee. Studies have shown that a person’s connection with a dog can go a long way to helping them open up and deal with their emotions and issues.

“A lot of people, I think, that deal with PTSD and symptoms of that really, unfortunately they don’t really want to talk to anybody, initially. Some people do and they should and sometimes they just don’t and sometimes they just want something as simple as a dog to pet and someone that’s going to give them compassion and make them feel comfortable, take the edge off,” adds Schwartz.

While Tio and Schwartz plan to focus on first responders and veterans, the team is willing to meet with anyone who could benefit from some *paws-itive interaction.

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