A few weeks ago, we made an incredibly special visit to meet Cosmo, the emotional support dog-in-residence in Durham Fire Department’s Station 13. Cosmo is a two-year-old Labrador Retriever who has been trained to smell stress and be a best friend to those in need. He’s amazingly good at his job and provides emotional support to local firefighters on a 6-days on, 3-days off work schedule.
Cosmo came to Durham Fire Station 13 by way of the organization Paws and Effect, which placed him under the loving care of Firefighter Jason Mask and his team of local heroes. Paws and Effect founders Eric and Nicole Shumate have twelve years of experience raising, training, and placing service dogs in Veteran and children’s communities. They developed a service dog program in 2009 and have expanded their training capacities over the years to cater to a wide variety of canine support needs.
Nicole was kind enough to share Cosmo’s story with us:
“Cosmo’s puppy raising adventure started in a prison in Iowa, where his handler was a life-sentenced inmate at Fort Dodge Correctional Facility. He then spent time with an experienced set of firefighters in Asheville before moving to Durham to live with Durham Fire Captain Jason Mask and his family.”
Nicole noted that while Cosmo was at AFD’s Station 7, he was exposed to the sights, sounds and daily rhythms of firehouse life. Observing Cosmo in that new placement was an opportunity for the folks at Paws & Effect to be certain that he could withstand the stress of his role as an emotional support dog for folks doing extremely stressful work.
“Cosmo has been blessedly adaptable and went through far more change than is typical due to the pandemic,” she said. “I can’t speak highly enough of the efforts Ashley [Anderson, Nicole’s Iowa-based counterpart at Paws & Effect] makes to assess puppies from whelping to assure that we have the right dog going to the right placement.”
In July 2022, Cosmo was fully integrated into his current role at Durham Fire Station 13. Fire Captain Jason Mask gave us an overview of all of the ways Cosmo makes an impact on our local firefighters.
“Cosmo’s primary duty is to help my brothers & sisters out that have been in stressful situations. That can be at-home or work stress,” Jason said. “For example, after a particularly bad call, Cosmo can go visit a crew & help relieve stress and tension.”
Jason noted that Cosmo also makes public appearances at Durham Bulls games, led the Durham Fire Department in the city Christmas parade, and even travels to elementary schools with the DFD to demonstrate his stop, drop, and roll skills.
"Cosmo has been a wonderful addition to our department, and I can’t say enough about the opportunity Paws and Effect has given us. Cosmo is truly loved by the members of the DFD and the citizens we serve,” Jason said.
And we’d have to agree! It was such a joy to spend time with Cosmo and the amazing folks at Durham Fire Station 13 last week, and the experience will stick with us for a long time. We, of course, treated Cosmo to some Wag Butter – Peanut Butter for Dogs during our visit, and as you’ll see here, he was a fan!