The Welsh Ambulance Service has welcomed its first wellbeing and trauma therapy dog, a border collie named Dill, in a UK first. Dill is part of the Oscar Kilo 9 (OK9) programme established by the National Police Wellbeing Service, which allows animals to accompany people to work to support their overall mental health. The service was launched in 2019 to expand local police wellbeing dog services and make them available to all forces that wish to participate. Dill has met all the criteria for becoming a wellbeing and trauma therapy dog and has passed the assessments set by OK9. Her handler, Katie McPheat-Collins, service manager for emergency medical services across Central Wales, said that Dill's gentle and calm nature and affinity to people led to her recent assessment and subsequent role within the trust.
Dill is also an operational search and rescue dog with SARDA South Wales, and a member of the Central Beacons Mountain Rescue Team. She will help staff and volunteers at the Welsh Ambulance Service with their mental health and wellbeing, as part of a wider programme to improve the health and wellbeing of the service's workforce. Currently, the service has police dogs affiliated with OK9, who visit stations and sites across South and North Wales. Dill's integration is part of an effort to close a gap throughout the Central region, where crews from smaller satellite stations may not be on base for several hours and may not have the shared benefit of a canine visit.
Dill's support can be in the form of station visits to help with morale and stress, a presence during debriefs, or community engagement, especially when connecting with young, elderly, or vulnerable audiences. The OK9 scheme has proved to be popular with the police and fire service, and the number of wellbeing and trauma support dogs has grown to over 175 in the past 18 months. Sgt Garry Botterill, Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dog Project Lead with the National Police Wellbeing Service, expressed his delight in welcoming the Welsh Ambulance Service to the scheme and wished them every success.
All emergency services face traumatic events and highly stressful situations, and the wellbeing dogs help to bring some light relief to colleagues, especially following difficult incidents. The service hopes that Dill will have a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the service's staff and volunteers, and set a precedent for other ambulance services to follow.