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Man's Best Friend Gets the Fire Boot

January 03, 1998

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has rejected a proposal that would have allowed dogs to continue living in the county's fire stations as mascots. Since 1994, a policy had been in effect that banned the adoption of new dogs to replace those who died. Department officials said the dogs were an insurance risk and impeded the firefighters' ability to respond to emergencies. Others, including Supervisor Mike Antonovich, feel that dogs help the relationship between the fire department and the public.

MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with a department representative who defended the no-dogs policy and with a firefighter who would like to see the mascots reinstated.

DAVID W. WASMUND

Captain, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Station No. 14, South-Central, Los Angeles

We had a dog, Petey, who lived here for 12 years before he died last November. I can't think of one person who did not want our dog here. He was a terrific public relations tool. Everyone knew this dog. We'd arrive on scene and people would ask for Petey. They'd ask to pet him or play with him. We'd go to fire safety demonstrations at schools and teach the kids the stop, drop and roll routine. He would do it right along with them. He'd really draw the kids in and get them excited. We would have people come here for station tours and we'd have the dog out there and have him do some tricks and everyone really got a kick out of him. This dog allowed us to get closer to the community.

Security is another good reason for having a dog. Especially in this station, we don't have much security. But we've never had any incidents of trespassing, nothing stolen, no break-ins. Just having the dog gave a sense of security.

There are mental health reasons too. A psychiatrist was here once and he told us that having a dog in the station was very healthy. He said that the dog, or even just a pet in general, had a calming effect on people. I tend to agree. I think it improved the morale among the staff just having the dog around. He would be our focus when we were playing with him. We enjoyed his company.

Dogs don't keep us from doing our work or delay us on a call. We would take him on calls with us and we usually kept him tied with a long leash to the truck. He was a well-behaved dog, never hurt or bit anyone. It has a lot to do with the way the dog is brought up. Petey was well-trained and well-loved, with lots of attention. We spent some big money when he got sick a few months back. But it was never a problem with any member here forking out the money for the vet bills.

We got incredible response when our dog died. Cards, letters and presents from all over. It was a unique situation and he was a pretty special dog. He is buried out in front of our station. We're in the process of getting a marker with his picture and even though it's costing us, we are all contributing toward the cost.

Petey was the second dog this station had. There was another named Boot who spent about10 years here and is buried here as well.

We only heard about the supervisors' measure after the fact. If we had known, we would have gotten on board and written letters or something to help keep the dogs.

I don't blame the department for taking the position it did, taking into consideration the liability and all. You can't guarantee every dog is going to have a good demeanor. We were probably lucky. Caption: Credit Line Petey the mascot for Station No.14 in South-Central in a snapshot with Capt. David W. Wasmund before the dog's death last November. A county supervisors decision forbids replacing dogs in fire houses.

LARRY C. MILLER

Operations chief deputy, Los Angeles County Fire Department

The fire department is not anti-dogs. The fire station is a public building and a place of work. It is like any other business; no one brings dogs to the office. Even though some employees like the dogs, the few who don't shouldn't be forced to live with them.

The firehouse is the home away from home for the firefighters. Unlike someone else's home, it is unique in that a lot of people share it. Not all firefighters think that the dogs need to share their living space. A lot of people don't like dogs in the eating area. We have some employees who are allergic to dogs.

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