M Health Fairview’s newest facility dog, Clayton, takes his job very seriously.
Though the yellow Lab’s day may be full of cuddles, head pats and belly rubs, he provides essential assistance to EMS staff who are dealing with the day-to-day stress of their jobs.
“Everyone’s day is brightened by just hanging out with Clayton,” said Clayton’s handler, Kevin Kane, an EMS worker at M Health Fairview.
Much of Clayton’s job is just doing what dogs do best: being a lovable companion for his human friends when they need to decompress. But, “Clayton is a little different than some of the other dogs we train,” said Denise Yokom of Can Do Canines.
Clayton, who is a yellow Lab, was raised and thoroughly trained by Can Do Canines in New Hope to be a facility dog at locations like M Health Fairview in Forest Lake.
Clayton isn’t assigned to just one person like a service dog would be, but instead, Clayton’s social personality makes him suitable to be a facility dog. As a social butterfly, he likes to work with a number of EMS personnel and also works with everyday people as a liaison between first responders and the public.
“All dogs are trained the same. Then they specialize later in life as the dogs choose their career,” said Yokom.
Since he was a puppy, Clayton has learned basic obedience and socialization skills and is trained to open doors and retrieve medical supplies.
When it was time for Clayton to pick his specialty, it was clear what Clayton wanted to do with his canine career.
“He chose to work with people, so he works with many people, not just one person. He wants to do things with everybody and do a lot of things for a lot of people,” said Yokom.
After picking a career path, Clayton needed to be paired with the right handler for him. When Can Do Canines trainers match their dogs with a client, they consider each individual’s personality and how it might line up with one of their dogs.
“It’s kind of like untangling Christmas lights every year to get the personalities right,” said Yokom.
That was when Clayton met Kevin.
For the last eight months, Kane wanted to start a facility dog program at M Health Fairview Forest Lake, but the program kept getting sidetracked. Kane later made a connection with the children’s family life coordinator, Anna Dressel, who was the handler for a facility dog named Rocket at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital. Dressel answered Kane’s questions and introduced him to Can Do Canines, where he was paired with Clayton.
Clayton, who lives with Kane, comes into work every day at the M Health Fairview base in Forest Lake to hang out with other EMS personnel and roam around the facility.
Clayton offers passive therapy for EMS workers who constantly confront stressful situations in their jobs.“I keep coming to the simple fact that people love dogs,” said Kane. “It’s okay for a grown man or woman to love a dog and decompress in a way that might be more approachable with a dog.”
The other part of Clayton’s job is to educate the public about what first responders do and to break down the barrier between the public and EMS. He and Kane attend kids’ safety camps to demonstrate what it would look like to start an IV or administer a tourniquet.
“Especially for kids, it can be a scary time when someone is sick or injured,” said Kane. “When they see the dog get in the back of an ambulance, it opens up a dialogue. It makes it less scary, and kids can feel free to talk to us. It makes us more approachable.”
Clayton knows when it’s time to be a goofball and play with his humans, but he also knows when to switch into work mode and take care of business.
“I’ve found that having a facility dog is kind of that sweet spot between working and just having a dog laying at my feet,” said Kane.
Clayton has made a few appearances at Forest Lake’s Fourth of July events and will continue to help out at the Fridays with Firefighters event, an educational event for people of all ages so they can learn what first responders do. The next Fridays with Firefighters event will be from 10 a.m. to noon August 12 at the Hugo Fire Department, 5323 140th St N., Hugo.
“He’s kind of there to be a spokesperson for us,” said Kane.
Whether Clayton is helping in a demonstration with Kane or cuddling with a tired EMS worker, most of Clayton’s support comes from doing what he does best — just being a dog.
Staff Writer Corinne Stremmel can be reached by calling 651-407-1226 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.