By Ryan Yousefi
From the traumatic scenes of the Fort Lauderdale Airport mass shooting to the healing corridors of local hospitals, one Broward County firefighter found solace in an unexpected hero – Oscar, a vibrant yellow Labrador.
As Oscar vies for the title of America’s bravest canine in the 2023 American Hero Dog Awards semifinals, his story of resilience and remarkable service unfolds, emphasizing the profound bond between a first responder and his four-legged companion.
This prestigious nationwide competition, orchestrated by the American Humane Society, shines a spotlight on remarkable canines that have demonstrated extraordinary acts of service to humanity.
With voting underway, Coral Springs resident and owner Dean Moreno, a Broward Sheriff’s Office Fire Rescue paramedic with over two decades of experience, shared what makes him worthy of the honor and how much Oscar has meant to him since bringing him home as an 8-week-old therapy puppy.
Moreno explains that Oscar first came into his life after responding to the 2017 Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport mass shooting, a life-altering event that left him in need of companionship just as much as his soon-to-be best friend.
“Our job as first responders is to help others regardless of the situation, and the number of calls we run and the things we sometimes see may have a lasting effect on our mental well-being,” Moreno shared.
“Ask any first responder, and they will tell you there is that one call that will forever remain in our memory, and for me, it was the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting,” Moreno said
Sadly, South Floridians have learned over the years that tragedies such as mass shootings have a longing impact on those directly impacted by the unfortunate events and all those involved, including first responders such as Moreno.
The images he encountered in the aftermath of the Fort Lauderdale Airport shootings left mental scars that took him years to come to grips with and just as long to seek to help heal.
“I was one of the first on scene because I was doing a fire watch detail in Terminal 3, and the incident happened in Terminal 2. Some images I saw and the feeling of helplessness will forever be with me,” Moreno said.
“It took me a couple of years following that day until I decided to research ways to handle stress, and I eventually came across therapy dogs as a possibility.”
Initially expecting to be on the waiting list a lot longer, Morena shares that as fate would have it, Oscar came into his life earlier than expected but right on time.
“It took about six months to get Oscar because the wait list in Florida was so long, but it worked out perfectly because someone backed out, and Oscar became available.”
Oscar swiftly became Moreno’s rock of emotional support. And as the years passed, he became motivated to share his therapeutic abilities with fellow first responders and those needing cheer.
With some intense training, Oscar officially became a certified therapy dog and has since not only helped those in need but, according to Moreno, become a first responder himself.
“Oscar and I were part of the response to Surfside,” Moreno said. “We spent multiple days down there, and words cannot express the dogs’ powerful impact on the site’s first responders and individuals working.”
Oscar’s magnetic charm and healing aura extends across diverse settings, including over 400 visits to local hospitals, school, and assisted living facilities, all of which have left an indelible mark on countless lives.
“Children are the best; they laugh, giggle, and want to run towards him to pet him,” Moreno shared.
Dean tells Coral Springs Talk he’s thankful for Oscar’s recognition in the American Hero Dog Awards semifinals, emphasizing the opportunity to raise awareness about first responders’ mental health.
“Our job is 365 days a year. This lets us let others know there are programs available for first responders and that asking for help is ok.”
Residents and supporters can cast their votes daily until August 24 to propel Oscar into the final round of the American Hero Dog Award scheduled for November. The final event takes place in West Palm Beach and will be filmed by the Hallmark Channel, where a panel of celebrity judges will determine the ultimate winner.
- Ryan Yousefi has lived in Coral Springs for over 30 years. He has worked as a writer for multiple outlets over the years, including the Miami New Times where he has covered sports and culture since 2013. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in Business Healthcare Management from Western Governors University.
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