EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The federal government has a new program to help border agents and support personnel cope with anxiety, stress and depression – especially after experiencing traumatic events.
The Support Canine Program started last month in Cherry Valley, California. It involves assigning trained emphatic dogs to peer support groups within the U.S. Border Patrol. The program launches a month after the agency reported a record 14 suicides among its agents in 2022.
“The events Border Patrol agents face leave little time to assess their emotional, spiritual and psychological state, and even less time to repair themselves from the trauma and crisis they deal with,” said Kathleen Scudder, executive director of the Mission Support Directorate at U.S. Border Patrol headquarters.
The program expanded to the El Paso Sector this week with the arrival of Blitzen, a 6-month-old black Labrador puppy. Blitzen’s job is to help improve emotions in the room as peer support group specialists talk to agents reeling from traumatic events on the field, the weight of pent-up frustrations or stressful personal situations.
The resource is part of the agency’s commitment to providing its workforce and families with a work-home balance and a healthy approach to the job, local Border Patrol officials said.
“The Canine Support Program is there to support our agents and staff as they face the challenging environment of their border security mission. The program can mitigate the negative emotional and psychological impact from the stress they face in their duties,” said U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector Acting Chief Peter Jaquez.
The agency on Wednesday released a video showing Blitzen waging its tail and letting himself be pet by El Paso agents.
While instances of extreme emotional distress that lead to agent suicides remain rare, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, has said that “14 suicides are too many.” In December he filed the TAPS Act to establish a task force for the prevention of suicide among U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel.
The act calls on the commissioner of CBP and the secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a task force to investigate the suicides and prevent more deaths. The task force is to produce a report with recommendations within six months. That report must be presented to House and Senate committees no later than 90 days after that.