by Dave Scholl, Publisher – Dixon’s Independent Voice
First responders – police and firefighters – help rescue people in difficult, and often very disturbing, situations. They know their job is to protect and comfort individuals in distress – they do it every day.
They see death, horrible injuries, and conflict and the effects on real lives of real people.
It is often forgotten that those situations take an emotional toll on the first responders as well.
With 30 years experiences in public safety, Robert Duvall, is now a volunteer Chaplain for the City of Dixon Police & Fire Departments, has made it his mission to visit first responders during critical events and visit with them regularly during down times.
Duvall notes first responders have a tradition – a culture – of just “sucking it up” when they have experienced the stress and emotions of dealing with traumatic events. But PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a serious problem for police, fire, and emergency medical personnel.
With the urging of former Dixon Police Chief Jon Cox, Robert Duvall became both a chaplain and a K-9 handler. In late 2015 he and a specially bred dog – Kepi – went through training and graduated together in November of 2015 and official were on duty on December 1.
“K-9 KEPI is an awesome ambassador for the city and what we do as a Crisis Intervention Response Team for our First Responders is something no one else ever considered trying,” Duvall said, “As a dog lover, you can imagine the compassion and comfort she brings to horrible situations.”
Kepi is a half-and-half mix of Labrador and Golden Retriever – giving her a personality perfect for bringing comfort to people under stress.
Duvall and Kepi serve public safety agencies throughout Solano and Yolo counties. They regularly visit those agencies – on a rotating basis every couple weeks, but the most involved agencies they visit every week.
“They know I have actually lived it – what they are experiencing,” says Duvall, “Just being able to talk about it, or even just be there for them, makes a big difference. Being able to pet and play with Kepi is a big calming release for their stress.”
Since Duvall and Kepi graduate in November 2015, he has covered everything, food, grooming, using his personal vehicle and fuel.
“KEPI and I worked 115 hours for the month of April and that’s been pretty steady every month since going into service in December.” Says Duvall, “It’s the $200 plus per month I pay out of pocket that is tough.”
He has been getting help recently. The Winters Police Department has provided an unmarked vehicle. The Davis PD has donated a K-9 cage – which cost about $3,500.
Those cages include air conditioning to keep the dog cool and safe during transport and on scenes. A company which installs those cages in police vehicles is doing so for $400, versus the normal cost of $1,000.
The Dixon police and firefighters are donating the food for Kepi.
“As a volunteer, I don’t mind donating my time for our community,” says Duvall, “but I would like help for out-of-pocket expenses.
Still needed are a cooling mat for Kepi when on a scene. On hot days, the dark black dog has a hard time keeping cool. Duvall also would like a pop-up with some sides to shade Kepi as well.
Efforts are underway to set up a fund to help cover those costs. Donations from generous residents of Dixon and the other communities served by Duvall and Kepi will be greatly appreciated. Watch the Independent Voice for updates on how to help.
Duvall became a paramedic in Richmond in 1986. He signed on with a Bay Area city police department in 1994. In 1997 he joined the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. He retired in 2012, then volunteered as a Chaplain in Dixon in 2013.
Kepi was born on May 25 in 2013. He is expected to be able to serve for six years. Upon Kepi’s retirement an organization which trains and provides service animals will provide Duvall with a replacement, while Kepi will become a “civilian.”