Éric Hamel expected the worst when he got a phone call at around 10:30 p.m. on Halloween. He was told there were possibly multiple victims following an attack in the streets of Old Quebec. As the clinical director for Quebec's paramedics' cooperative, the Coopérative des techniciens ambulanciers du Québec (CTAQ), Hamel was dispatched to the crime scene to triage the victims.
Two people, Suzanne Clermont and François Duchesne, died that night. Five others were injured and taken to hospital.
During the intervention, Hamel's Goldendoodle, called Dude, waited patiently in the car. Dude's work started at around 1:30 a.m, when first responders headed back to the dispatch centre.
Dude's full-time job, Hamel said, is to get petted.
"That night he just lay down in the middle of everyone — it just calmed us," Hamel said.
Dude was introduced to the team in 2019 as a therapy dog to help paramedics defuse some of the stress they experience on the job.
Whenever a particularly difficult event happens — calls involving children, for example — Dude is there.
He's part of a larger plan the co-op has in place to support staff.
In the early hours of Nov. 1, a social worker was also on site as colleagues came together to talk — and process — what had happened.
"Medics are like a couple," Hamel said. "They like to go through things together."
When someone breaks down, Dude goes straight to them, Hamel said. "We see medics getting down on their knees, and they just cry on Dude."
Change in culture
Dude wasn't destined to be a therapy dog.
A few years ago, Hamel's children convinced him to get a new dog even though he already had his hands full with two others. But slowly, Hamel and his partner noticed how people were drawn to him.
Hamel consulted with other first responders' units, including some in Ottawa and Calgary that have similar programs.
After being trained and evaluated by Caring Paws Animal Therapy in Montreal, Dude was officially hired in November 2019.
He accompanies Hamel 24/7 and hangs around the office during normal work days, when staff can throw the ball around and give him a cuddle before hitting the road.
His presence takes the edge off a job where the stakes are always high, Hamel said.
"Psychologically and scientifically, it is proven your stress hormones will go down when you interact with an animal," Hamel said.
Hamel started working as a paramedic in 1988, at a time when defusing, an intervention where people debrief immediately after a critical incident, didn't exist.
"Before, you were on the job, you saw something like that, and after that you got another call and it was not OK to talk about it," Hamel said.
"You were supposed to be strong and just move on to the next call."
About four years ago, even before the deadly shooting at the Quebec Mosque, CTAQ started making changes to its post-intervention plans to support paramedics after traumatic interventions.
A defusing session is held immediately, and followups are held over the next 72 hours to make sure employees are coping.
Dude is especially important to those who don't verbalize what they are going through, Hamel said.
"Sometimes, medics, police, are macho — they don't want to show their emotions."
"But when they kneel down, they cuddle Dude, grab on to him, and they will start to talk — as if they were talking to Dude and not to us."
Dominic Chaput, the director of operations of CTAQ, said taking care of first responders after an intervention is now a crucial part of the deployment.
He said the whole team is invited to take part, even if they didn't participate directly, because they share the stress and trauma of their colleagues.
"Being a paramedic isn't an easy job, but it's the career we chose and that we stick with, because we want to help people," Chaput said.
He too was called out of bed on Oct. 31 to oversee the command post in Old Quebec.
While it's impossible to not be affected in some way, Chaput said knowing you've done everything you can to save someone helps a lot.
He said the work his team did that night "probably saved lives."
"If I give everything I've got, that I've done everything I can to help a patient, well that makes it a little easier to come into work the next day."
For Hamel, having his sidekick by his side 24/7 has helped more than he could have imagined.
"He's everything for me now," said Hamel. "I have a stressful job, but when he's there just sitting beside me in the car, my stress goes away."
"Dude is my life now."