5 Questions with Brad Cole, K9 First Responders, Inc.
I met Brad Cole at Yale this past summer with his Crisis Intervention K9 Spartacus Chooch. Being with this team was like being with old friends. Brad and Spartacus have an uncanny ability to make you feel more than ok, they make you feel grounded, cared for and connected. That’s when I learned that Brad and Spartacus have special training to work with victims of trauma, as well as first responders who are in an unfolding event, as well as with children who have experienced violence and trauma. Their work is simply amazing.
Can you describe what prompted you to work in Crisis Intervention with K9 Spartacus, and what K9 Crisis Intervention is, generally?
As Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy was unfolding, I inherently understood there would be difficulty connecting and engaging with the children who witnessed events unfold. The ages of the children present made adult/teenage intervention techniques ineffective. Children under the age of 10 have not developed the same level of processing and communication skills as older children/adults. A tool was needed to safely connect and engage with them while allowing for defusing of the emotional trauma they were enduring. Dogs allow for that safe emotional connection without having to talk. Proving a mental hall pass for all involved.
From there, I was called in to assist in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and a local school homicide. I then formed K9 First Responders (www.k9fr.org)
Brad, can you explain what K9 Crisis Intervention is exactly?
K9 Crisis Intervention is a safe emotional engagement and connection with an impacted person by a dog and handler trained in Psychological First Aid and other intervention techniques. The dog is a tool/resource providing a safe space to defuse while lowering blood pressure, stress, anxiety and the physical effects of stress. This promotes acceptance of help sooner than later.
What is the most important piece of advice to a first responder who is a dog handler (especially beginning handlers) about encountering trauma and repeated exposure to trauma?
The dogs will take in the stress and anxiety of those they meet as well as their handler's emotions. Know your dog. Watch for your dog's stress signs. Do not overwork. Have a decompression plan and be consistent. Down time is important.
Are there things (based upon your experience) that are sometimes overlooked? Especially a SAR or HRD dog? For example, do you have specific recommendations for handlers about stresses of searches?
There is a bond that develops between a dog and handler during the extensive SAR & HRD training and time in the field. Follow your gut instinct about what your dog is saying to you (non-verbal cues). New handlers should learn what their dog's stress signs are and understand them in the context of their work.
Do you follow specific routines with Spartacus after long deployments?
Spartacus prefers one-on-one down time with me. He enjoys being by the ocean or lake. Try to take him someplace we can do both. Just hanging out and walking along the water.
What is the most important lesson that you have learned that has helped you in your training of Spartacus to deploy to help people in the midst of trauma and crisis?
Spartacus will get more out of a person than I will. I learned to trust who he wants to visit and how he interacts. He guides me.
What is the most important quote for you, regarding “stress”?
"Stress is a physical condition effecting the mind and body. It impacts your physical, emotional and mental well being. It is a very treatable medical injury."
Do you have some suggested websites or a recommended reading?
Here’s how to contact and learn more about Brad & Sparticus’ incredible work:
K9 First Responders, Inc.
6 W River St, #47, Milford, CT 06460-9453
+1 (203) 951-1494 > 24/7 Dispatch
+1 (203) 767-3539 > Direct