Skip to content

Yukon’s 1st accredited facility dog supports emergency responders on 1st big call

Alison Harper says Thorin the black lab senses emotions in people and helps them heal

Thorin, a dog with some special skills and training, just faced his first “big event” emotionally and psychologically supporting first responders as the Yukon’s first accredited facility dog. He has been on the job since March.

On June 5, Alison Harper, Thorin’s handler, got the request about a “challenging medical call” with an unfortunate outcome, so the two-and-a-half-year-old black labrador retriever and his partner set to work supporting crews after the call.

Harper, who is commander of community operations with Yukon emergency medical services, told the News that Thorin helps promote wellness and mental health of emergency response workers such as paramedics, police, firefighters and hospital staff.

He acts as another resource to help first frontline responders cope with difficult situations like motor vehicle crashes, cardiac arrests, mental health crises and high-acuity medical calls. 

“When we are made aware that there's been a challenging call for the crews, I'll get notification of it, and then we'll head down to hospital or down to station one, and just be able to provide time with Thorin and the crew,” Harper said. 

“We'll do like a little ad-hoc debrief, or he'll do a lot of play time, so tug, fetch, that sort of stuff, going for walks, and it just gets the crew out of the mind frame of what they were just involved with, and kind of helps to start to heal and get the brain away from the trauma that they were just exposed to.” 

Thorin's accreditation comes with reputation and more than two years of specialized training with the Pacific Assistance Dog Society, or PADS, to sense emotions like fear, anger, anxiety and stress in people. 

“Thorin is calm, confident and playful, making him the perfect companion for those experiencing trauma, pain, grief, illness or injury. His natural instinct to comfort those in need, combined with his remarkable resilience, allows him to handle the toughest emotions and shake them off at the end of the day,” reads a Facebook post by Yukon Health and Social Services. 

When Thorin has his vest on, he’s officially a working dog. Unlike a therapy dog, his resiliency allows him to work for up to eight hours every day.

As part of his training, when Thorin senses someone fidgeting, tapping their toes or showing other signs of angst, he responds by nudging them, doing positive body pressure or putting his chin on their lap.

“It works as like a distraction,” Harper explained.

“What affects people or first responders is different for everybody.”

According to the PADS website, “Thoughtful Thorin” was born on Oct. 3, 2021. He was brought up to offer “life-changing independence to someone with a physical disability other than visual impairment or to work with a professional such as a teacher, psychologist or victim services worker to help support a healthy community.” 

On March 21, PADS announced online that Thorin got a job. 

Harper was immediately touched by Thorin’s loving heart and sad eyes when they first met in Vancouver in March. 

“We very quickly connected,” she said. 

Harper said faces light up when Thorin is around. 

“He brings a lot to the workplace,” she said. “I think the big thing that we've noticed in the last month and a half that he's been with us is the ability for people to kind of open up and just this sense of, I guess, pride is what I'm seeing from a lot of people, too.” 

His career is expected to span five to seven years.  

But he can only do so much on his own. 

Harper hopes this initiative inspires more accredited facility dogs to provide proactive and reactive support around the Yukon. 

Contact Dana Hatherly at 

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
Read more