REAL LIFE

Meet Ember: The hero doggie helping fireys

What a good girl!

Australia is famous for its bright blue skies, serene beaches and vast bushland.

But photos of our nation have recently depicted a different kind of scenery – smoke-filled skylines, deserted beaches and entire communities reduced to ash.

Then there’s the heart-wrenching pictures of our hero fireys tirelessly battling the catastrophic blazes that have ravaged the country since September 2019, or snatching rare moments of much-needed rest.

One firey’s daughter posted a photo of her dad getting five minutes sleep on their lawn after he finished his 10th 12-hour day in a row volunteering with the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS).

Today I heard my dad cry, Jenna O’Keeffe wrote. He said ‘Jen I have never seen anything like this, it’s never ending.’

Facebook - Jenna O'Keeffe
(Credit: Facebook – Jenna O’Keeffe)

While some towns have experienced downpours of rain helping the smoke to clear, authorities have advised that the bushfire crisis is far from over.

Still, in true Aussie spirit, we’ve seen communities rallying together and brave fireys and volunteers refusing to give up.

One four-legged friend helping to lift their morale is Ember.

Here Natalie Brindle, 40, from Portland, Vic, shares Ember’s story in her own words…

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(Credit: Supplied)

Collapsing on the lounge one night, I felt a soft nudge against my hand. It was my beautiful labrador, Ember, coming to say hello.

Wrapping my arms around her, I felt a calmness wash over me.

Working as a firefighter for the past 18 years, it can be difficult but incredibly rewarding work. Though I love helping others, we’re often met with confronting scenes.

With her gentle temperament and loving nature, Ember always helps to lift the spirits of everyone she meets.

So I decided to get her involved in therapy dog work where she could provide support to patients in our local hospital.

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(Credit: Supplied)

Cuddling up on their beds, her job would be to distract them from their treatment.

But first she had to go through basic obedience training for 12 months, which she passed with flying colours.

Next, she learned how to ignore distractions like food, unfamiliar objects and loud noises − instead picking up on people’s emotions when they were feeling down.

Then she was ready.

Visiting sick and injured patients at hospital, Ember would put her head in their laps.

I was so pleased to be making a difference to the lives of others.

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(Credit: Supplied)

That’s when I realised Ember could really help the firefighters I worked with who had experienced a traumatic incident.

After talking to a
friend who works as a psychologist, she agreed dogs could be a fantastic asset to people working in emergency services.

With the help of my Country Fire Authority (CFA) colleagues, Ember was appointed as Australia’s very first crisis response dog in January 2018.

Travelling to fire and police stations all over Victoria, Ember can look for cues in those who are feeling stressed or anxious, and give them a much-needed cuddle.

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(Credit: Supplied)

Though they aren’t always willing to talk about their feelings, Ember allows them to just take some time out.

And if my fellow fireys need more support, I can refer them on to additional services, such as counselling.

Recently, after the devastating bushfires across the country, Ember and I travelled to fire stations in Victoria and NSW to help bring a smile to the faces of the exhausted firefighters.

‘Everyone is so much calmer,’ one firefighter said after stopping us for a pat.

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(Credit: Supplied)

Now aged four, Ember loves nothing more than lending a helping paw.

Taking part in events such as the annual Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb, we managed to raise more than $8000 for various mental health charities last year. We’ve also recently started selling Australian-themed bandanas to raise funds for Lifeline and the Black Dog Institute.

Together, Ember and I are determined to help others to reduce the impact of workplace trauma.

We’re all in this together.

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