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A prestigious award is given to a heroic yellow lab that comforted first responders and families after tragic events



Coral Springs, Florida – First responders will undoubtedly be there for us anytime we need them. But occasionally, the challenging, grueling work these courageous men and women do on a daily basis forces them to confront their own anxieties and stressors.

Oscar, a 4-year-old yellow lab, and his handler, Dean Moreno, a human, arrive to offer consolation and encouragement to those who are constantly there for us.

Moreno works as a paramedic and firefighter with Broward County Fire Rescue in Weston. He is a resident of Coral Springs’ Beachwood Heights neighborhood.

Oscar was just announced as the 2024 Rikki Mitchell Animal Achievement Award winner. The Florida Bar’s Animal Law division grants this prize once a year.

It bears Rikki’s name in remembrance, the first therapy dog admitted into the Florida court system in 2012 with the purpose of assisting and consoling young witnesses. The Florida Bar honors one influential animal in the state each year after Rikki left for the Rainbow Bridge in 2017.

Moreno is a member of the PEER/Crisis response team in his department. After a heartbreaking call, he and Oscar console first responders. He said, “Oscar calms them down.”

First responders are typically helped by Oscar and his human partner, but this isn’t always the case. The pair was dispatched to the horrific Surfside condominium collapse scene in June 2021 in order to console and pacify other emergency personnel.

It continued after that. Additionally, Oscar and Moreno went to the motels that the remaining families were staying at.

Oscar is Moreno’s 24/7 housemate. Moreno remarked, “I got him at eight weeks.” Oscar has been a blessing for me. His birthday is April 29.

According to Moreno, even though we are all aware of the valiant actions taken by first responders, we are often blind to the consequences and potential toll it may have on individuals. The simple act of being able to pet and see Oscar relieves stress associated with work.

Two years after the Surfside tragedy, Moreno took a class, and a fellow first responder approached him, saying he remembered them from the disaster. “ ‘You brought Oscar to Surfside,’ “ the person told him. “ ‘It was the first time I smiled in two weeks.’ “

Moreno said, “It’s a gift that keeps giving.”

In addition to Moreno and Oscar’s routine emergency response, he also donates his own time to visiting schools and even a drug rehab center for first responders. “Nobody is interested in me. He makes the difference; I’m merely the dog’s handler.

Stephanie Perkins, the director of Animal Therapy at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, submitted Oscar for this distinguished honor, acknowledging the important job that he and Moreno have done.
She claims that social media is how she learned about the Oscar and Moreno winning squad.

“We found them and everything he was doing as a volunteer,” Perkins said. “He does this all on his own time.”

Perkins continues, “It was clear that this therapy dog and his owner had a special bond.”

“It’s just overall a big picture of what they do as first responders: They give empathy and compassion to others, and they need it in return.”

For these reasons, she submitted an Oscar nomination for the prize that a member of the Florida Bar’s Animal Law division gave on June 21 in Orlando.

The animal law committee chair, environmental lawyer Ralph A. DeMeo, is the one giving out the award. Every year, he asks for some animal to be submitted for this prestigious award, emphasizing that it is not necessary for the applicant to be a dog. Magic, a tiny therapeutic horse from the equine therapy group Gentle Carousel, won the prize last year.



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