Freddie, American Medical Response Springfield’s therapy dog.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

SPRINGFIELD — At the end of the workday, two feet covered in curly blonde hair stick out from under American Medical Response Regional Director Patrick Leonardo’s desk. Between them, a wet, reddish-brown nose twitches and sniffs occasionally, while its owner waits patiently for Leonardo to finish his work.

Freddie, a 4-year-old goldendoodle, is the therapy dog for AMR’s Springfield office. He began working with AMR Springfield in early 2020, as a 12-week-old puppy. Freddie was named after Fred Della Valle, AMR’s vice president of government relations who died in 2019. Della Valle “was very gentle with people,” Leonardo said, so the team found it fitting to name their therapy dog in his honor.

Freddie’s main job is to “make people smile,” and provide comfort to AMR’s EMTs and paramedics, said AMR Administrative Operations Supervisor Melissa Piscitelli, Freddie’s primary handler. She said that when one of the first responder crews comes back to AMR’s offices, Freddie can tell if they are upset or stressed and will lean against their legs. “And whatever it is melts away. They’re on dog time,” she said. “He just brings a softer environment. It gives them a smile and lets them remember that there are good things in the world.”

Piscitelli also brings Freddie to daycare centers, hospitals, and fire and police departments. People are sometimes wary due to the size of Freddie, a furry giant with long legs who stands about 4 feet tall. “He looks preschoolers in the eyes,” she said with a chuckle. However, once they see his calm demeanor and gentle nature, she said they relax.

Freddie has traveled as far away as Washington, D.C., to comfort first responders after line-of-duty deaths of colleagues.

Piscitelli explained that Global Medical Response, AMR’s parent company, began its therapy dog program in 2016 and now has more than 30 dogs placed with its emergency responders across the country.

April 30 was National Therapy Dog Day. Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act not recognizing therapy dogs under its regulations, there are several Massachusetts laws, including those concerning housing, that protect a person’s ability to have therapy dogs or “emotional support animals.” Workplaces can decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow therapy dogs on the premises. Leonardo said therapy dogs are more readily accepted in the workplace now than they were a decade ago, when the program began.

Piscitelli said GMR’s therapy dogs must undergo basic obedience training, but the act of comforting people is more instinct than training, she said.

Leonardo said, “It’s the temperament of the retriever and the intelligence of the poodle that makes them good therapy dogs,” adding that GMR only works with poodle mixes, widely called doodles. They are also allergy-friendly because poodles have hair instead of fur and rarely shed.

Piscitelli smiled and said, Freddie has “completed our family.”

Leonardo said, “These people see things people should never have to see, and they walk in and see him. How can you not smile at that face?”

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