Staff Report

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department is welcoming its newest member, Rhonda, who is the department’s first emotional support canine. 

Rhonda was trained over a nine-month period to recognize signs of agitation, anxiety and stress and interrupt those behaviors by providing affection and enabling individuals to express themselves in a safe environment. 

Rhonda will assist firefighters after emotionally challenging calls or with personal issues. Firefighter Sam Dudley has been assigned as Rhonda’s handler. Rhonda will be with Dudley every day, both at work and at home. 

With firefighter depression and PTSD rates five times higher than the general population, Rhonda will help ensure Santa Barbara County firefighters are working at their highest potential and support the department’s efforts in sustaining long lasting, healthy careers. Rhonda will be available 24/7 to support all area fire agencies within Santa Barbara County. She may also be utilized statewide. 

Facilitated by the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance and generous donations from the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation and the Manitou Fund, which supported the purchase of a Ford F150 XL pickup truck, specifically outfitted for Rhonda, to be used by the department for transportation between assignments. Additionally, the Pet House in Goleta has generously offered to donate all food for Rhonda, and assist with grooming costs.