Four-legged first responder helps people struggling with addiction

[anvplayer video=”5039547″ station=”998127″]

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Fire Rescue is having to use Narcan more often than usual to help people who have overdosed. This past year has had a big impact on mental health.

But for months, a hard working pup has been providing some help to people struggling with addiction.

Wrigley is AFR’s newest four-legged first responder. She’s a two-year-old Labradoodle who’s been on the job since December and doing client visits for about three months.

In that time, she’s already helped many people.

"I’m in our community paramedic division," Lt. Jake Gray, her handler, explained. "And we go out and meet with folks that are struggling with addictions or complex medical conditions."

Gray has seen her impact first hand.

"With dogs there’s unconditional love, right? There’s no judgment," Gray said.

Out in the field, Wrigley’s puppy eyes seem to do the trick.

"We’ve visited with people that were unwilling to go into rehab or detox for the addiction they’re struggling with," Gray said. "After 45 minutes of visiting with Wrigley and playing out in the yard, they came up to us and said, ‘I’m ready to go.’"

This approach aims to help those living with addiction to get resources, so they won’t get into dangerous, life-threatening situations.

"With what we’re doing now, it’s a long-term relationship of three to six months working with these folks," Gray said.

Wrigley helps encourage them get help and end the cycle of addiction.

"She really enjoys connecting with people," Gray said.

At the end of a long day, Wrigley gets to de-stress too.

"Every evening she gets a three-mile off-leash in the Sandias," Gray said. "She’s a dog. She needs time to be a dog as well. So she likes to go out there and bark and chase squirrels and bugs."

But it’s not just the lives of the community Wrigley has changed, her handler Gray said she’s touched his life too.

"I’ve been in emergency medicine for 16 years, so I have some of my own personal struggles with depression and PTSD," Gray said. "She just really grounds me and is able to help me with a lot of that anxiety and depression."

The community also helped with donations to get Wrigley.

The Albuquerque Community Foundation donated $10,000 for the dog, Blue Cross Blue Shield donated money to upgrade a vehicle into a canine unit, and Arf and Annie’s Pet Salon keeps her groomed.