It began as one first responder’s journey through PTSD with the help of his therapy dog. Today, it is a movement to train and enlist more therapy dogs for first responders in Broward County— and to inspire more communities around the country to do the same for their emergency personnel.
That was evident at an October 28 luncheon and silent auction that FHE Health hosted, organized, and funded as the lead sponsor. The event would not have been possible without the support of more than a dozen sponsors from the community, as well as participating donors and guest speakers. In addition to raising awareness about the mental health needs of first responders, this first fundraiser luncheon to benefit the newly formed 501(c)(3) First Responders Pack Foundation raised roughly $12,000. All funds raised will go toward expanding Broward County first responders’ canine support network.
Interested in joining the cause? You can make an online donation here. Every penny will help train therapy dogs to support the mental health of our first responders.
Over 80 people attended the lunch fundraiser at the Fort Lauderdale Ritz-Carlton. Attendees included first responders, representatives of local businesses, members of the Women’s Council and Kiwanis Club of Deerfield Beach, behavioral health professionals, and elected officials. They were there as guests, donors, and corporate sponsors and came to be educated and inspired by an impressive array of speakers.
Who Were the Speakers?
Former Navy Seal and best-selling author Jason Redman keynoted the luncheon. He emphasized tenacity and the power of a positive outlook. Redman also spoke about how his therapy dog Kharma, (named after the Iraqi city where Redman was catastrophically injured in combat), helped him recover emotionally and psychologically in the aftermath of trauma.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce’s Senior Vice President Denise Jordan introduced the ensuing program in her opening remarks.
Youtube/Podcaster Former Officer Mike the Cop followed. He brought levity and kept the audience on its toes with periodic installments of his edgy humor.
Director of Shatterproof FHE Health Dr. Sachi Ananda tied the science behind PTSD to the therapeutic benefits of emotional support K9s. She underscored how hard it can be for first responders to share their mental health struggles in an inpatient treatment setting; in the presence of a therapy dog, though, many are able to relax and become more present to the healing process.
Other Highlights of the Program
Personal stories like that of the 2017 Sheriff’s Foundation Firefighter/Paramedic County “Firefighter of the Year” Dean Moreno and his therapy dog Oscar were another highlight of the luncheon. Moreno, who was also in the line-up of speakers, “stole the show,” according to one of the attendees. Another agreed that “there wasn’t a dry eye in the room” when Moreno shared his trauma after the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting and how it had “galvanized his desire to work closely with therapy dogs to help other first responders experiencing PTSD.” (Read Moreno and Oscar’s moving story.)
The Story Behind FHE Health’s New Partner: First Responders Pack Foundation
The non-profit organization First Responders Pack Foundation is an outgrowth of Moreno’s commitment to see more therapy dogs helping first responders in their time of crisis or need—not just in Broward County, but in communities nationwide. (This short, heartwarming video shares more about the foundation and how it started with the help of a yellow Labrador retriever puppy, Oscar.)
Since it first began in June 2022, the First Responders Pack Foundation has made rapid progress at acquiring new therapy dogs for Broward County first responders. A black lab Bailey and yellow lab Oliver have joined Oscar as members of Broward County’s canine support team, and Moreno is in the process of acquiring a fourth dog, a four-month-old, female lab pup.
How and Why FHE Health Has Supported This Cause
FHE Health’s support for this cause is an extension of its commitment to first responder families and their mental health. (Our specialized treatment program Shatterproof FHE Health provides trauma-based therapies, peer support groups, and cutting-edge neuro treatments that rehabilitate the brain.)
Last year, after a highly successful campaign generated an outpouring of support from our followers, FHE Health fulfilled its pledge: It donated $10,000 for the training and acquisition of a second therapy dog for Broward County first responders.
“FHE Health has had the privilege of supporting the mental health of first responders who come from around the country for treatment for PTSD, addiction, and other issues,” FHE Health Chief Operating Officer Rami Sleiman said. “We’ve seen the positive difference that even just one visit from a therapy dog can make for these patients during their time in treatment with us. This fundraiser is our way of giving back to the community, both to Broward County first responders and the people they serve.”