Service dog donated to help Manatee County first responders manage stress

With four paws and a wagging tail, Rucker has become the newest member of Manatee County's first responder family. 

The Manatee County Public Safety Department's newest member is trained to recognize and stop moments of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It just makes you happy. I don’t think about anything other than how big his paws are or how happy he is," said paramedic Lydia Wilkinson. 

For all the good Wilkinson does, there are moments of darkness that can't be erased.

"Sometimes you don’t want to talk about it to other people and they don’t understand," she said. 

That's where two-year-old Rucker comes in.

"When he makes contact with you, you automatically, even if it’s just a little bit, start to feel calmer and happier and again, in the moment, change the course of your emotion," said Carol Lansford. 

Carol Lansford said Rucker, who was trained and donated by Valor Service Dogs, is one of the first post-traumatic stress disorder facility dogs in the area. 

Rucker is part of the Public Safety Peer Support Program, where employees receive training to speak to their peers about on-the-job stressors. 

He works with 911 operators, EMTs, paramedics, and lifeguards; those who've worked through some of the hardest rescues and calls. 

"It's not a cure, but every little bit helps and we hope that other departments and agency see what Rucker is doing," said Lansford. 

Little movements, barely recognizable catch Rucker's attention. 

"He'll come up and break my hands away. If I’m bouncing my leg, he’ll come up and put his head on my leg," said Chief James Crutchfield. 

Manatee County EMS Chief James Crutchfield said Rucker's presence is already a great success. 

"People open up, people smile. They could run a horrible call or a 911 call that had a horrible outcome, they see Rucker and they are happy to be here and want to be here and they want to keep working and that’s important," he said.