FERN the four year old female German Shepard/Retriever is helping Limerick Suicide Watch (LSW) save lives.
Owner Mike O’Mara said his four legged friend has proven a valuable asset to LSW and has been involved in numerous interventions and has helped many people in distress.
Mike who has been a trainer for the Irish Guide dogs for the Blind for many years often thought while patrolling the Shannon over the last five years, how he would like to introduce a dog to see if it would help people in distress to interact with the patrol more quickly through the dog.
“I did a lot of research through other Therapy dog groups and got a lot of expert advice from people working within the mental health area. The response I got was incredible and so Fern was introduced to patrols on a trial basis, and two years down the road she has proven a valuable asset to LSW after being involved in numerous interventions helping people in distress.
“She is very calming when she interacts with people and has a natural ability to pick up on a person when they are low, and just approaches them and looks for a hug, and snuggles in to them. The response from these people is amazing to see and they usually open up to us much quicker while hugging or rubbing Fern.
“We believe she is the first dog to do this kind of work and we are all very proud of her. As you can imagine she is very popular with all our volunteers and gets spoilt by everyone,” said Mike.
Fern was a pup that Mike was training for the Irish Guide dogs for the Blind but was withdrawn from advanced training as an Autism assistance dog two years ago because she was too friendly, she wanted to greet every person or dog she met while out training.
Mike has trained pups for the Irish Guide dogs for about 9 years and has a number of dogs now working in full time roles with both visually impaired and Autistic clients around the country.
The process in becoming a puppy trainer involves an Irish guide dogs supervisor coming to your home to access your suitability to take on the role. Then training is done on an ongoing basis through classes with other puppy trainers in group and individual situations.
“A pup will remain with me from eight weeks for about 14 months before returning to Cork to be accessed for suitability for either Guide Dog or Assistance Dog and then continue on to advanced training in the center.
“As you can imagine letting the pups go after such a long time training them is extremely difficult and is the part of the experience I dreaded every time it came around. They became a part of the family very quickly even if you tried not to get too attached,” added Mike.
Since early 2017 Fern has also become a Therapy dog with Brothers of Charity where she calls to their center in Bawnmore and visits a number of clients who are intellectually challenged.
“She gets an amazing response from all the clients and staff alike in the center. The staff have told me that it is the highlight of the week when she arrives on site. She also does individual visits to houses in the community,” said Mike.
Fern also remains an Ambassador dog with The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and does many events such as school and business visits and supports many fundraising events around the country.
“She is a very busy lady but loves all the attention and fuss she gets in all the work she does,” added Mike.