CHATHAM — When it comes to providing emergency medical services, firefighters do what they can to help their patients make a complete recovery. But Chatham Firefighter Paramedic Michael Lopriore is going the extra mile—with a dog leash in his hand.
Lopriore and his colleagues were repeatedly called to help a resident suffering from a severe medical condition.
“It was kind of an ongoing thing. It was getting progressively worse and worse,” he said. Eventually, she knew she needed more help than the local rescue squad could provide. “She had to get more advanced care to get back to 100 percent,” Lopriore said.
Town officials worked with the woman to identify a rehabilitation facility, but there was a barrier.
“She was like, I can’t leave my dog,” he said. The woman said that Mia, her two-year-old dog, was the only family she had and provided her with important emotional support. For days, health care workers tried to arrange accommodations for the dog that the owner found suitable, but had no luck. Finally, Lopriore offered to care for Mia, a lab-boxer-beagle mix, as long as necessary until her owner is back on her feet.
Lopriore and his girlfriend, Alizah, have a pet cat. Did he consult with her before offering to take in Mia? Lopriore laughs.
“I made the offer, and said, ‘pending consultation with my girlfriend.’”
The owner was grateful, but also a bit wary.
“She wanted to vet me a little bit,” he said. He visited the home and talked about how he would care for Mia. After the interview, the owner was convinced and agreed to get the help she needed.
It has been an adjustment both for Mia, who was used to being with her owner 24 hours a day, and for Lopriore, who was used to being able to make spontaneous plans without worrying about being home at a particular time.
“That’s the biggest adjustment for us, just the time,” he said. But he and his girlfriend have help from a roommate, Lopriore’s father and other Chatham firefighters who have offered to pitch in. It’s not surprising, given Mia’s charm.
“She’s a great dog,” he said. Though she’s not fond of loud noises, Mia is very outgoing and friendly. And, truth be told, she’s a great opportunity for Lopriore and his girlfriend to try out dog ownership. The week before they agreed to become foster parents for Mia, the two had submitted papers to adopt a dog of their own.
“Hundreds of people applied,” and he and Alizah weren’t ultimately chosen, Lopriore said. Until then, they’ve already grown attached to Mia, and know it will be a tough day when it’s time to give her back. After that, they’ll try again to adopt a dog of their own. The focus now is on getting Mia’s owner healthy again.
“We just want her to get the care she needs and for her to get better so she can return home healthy,” he said.
Fire Chief Peter Connick said he’s proud of the high level of care and service his department provides, and Mia is evidence of that dedication. Connick said he hopes her owner gets well and can return home soon.
Until then, Lopriore regularly brings Mia to rehab to visit her owner.
“It keeps her in good spirits,” he said. “It’s good for her owner and for the dog.”