On Sunday, Lady Katherine “Cat” and her human, Rick Dunton, successfully completed their certification to become the first official Charlotte Fire Department K-9 therapy team.
The Charlotte Fire Department established their K-9 program in May of 2020 with their first K-9.
Lady Katherine, or “Cat” as she’s most often called, was provided to the Charlotte Fire Department by K-9 Caring Angels Therapy Dogs of Manassas, Va.
Cat was born Dec. 29, 2019 and was named after Katherine Hazemey, a Caring Angels volunteer.
When Katherine passed away, Caring Angels wanted to honor her with a K-9 that would go on to serve others in her memory.
As the first K-9 in CFD’s program, Cat was assigned to Rick Dunton, fire and life safety educator and K-9 handler for the Charlotte Fire Department. The program works out of the office of public information and community engagement.
Cat was assigned to Dunton based on a number of considerations, including interest in the position and its requirements, flexible work schedule, engagement in community and education, and Dunton’s history as a firefighter.
Cat’s role with CFD is dual purpose. The first is with community engagement and public education.
“Cat is already learning how to stop drop and roll, crawl low under smoke, go to a meeting place, and feel a door for heat,” Dunton said. “These are all skills we want people to know in case of a fire, and having Cat able to demonstrate these skills with our younger audience will help them remember the things we’re there to teach.”
Cat is also used as a therapy dog.
“Cat and I just became certified as a K-9 therapy team, and one of our early goals for the program is to visit with all 42, soon to be 43 fire stations, on all three shifts,” Dunton said. “We also visit our other work areas including our administration, fire prevention, investigations, logistics, emergency management and our communications team.”
Cat has also been out to visit MEDIC and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department Crime Scene team.
Cat has been incredibly well received by the community, but the underscored purpose of socializing her is aimed at stress reduction and behavioral well-being.
“In putting this program together, we found numerous studies that showed petting a dog can lower blood pressure and relieve stress,” Dunton said. “The act of petting a dog even for a few minutes can help release serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin. It’s also been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol.”
The K-9 program is not funded by taxpayer money. Even as we’ve seen success with Cat and a workload sizable enough to call for a second or even third K-9 team, the department relies on donations for the sustainability and growth of the program.
The K-9 program is also selling tickets for an outdoor socially distanced fundraiser. The scavenger hunt through “Let’s Roam” will guide participants on a two mile activity tour around the city, with stops at a few historical fire department sites and trivia related to Charlotte. The event runs Oct. 3-11. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS.
If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.
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