Emotional Support Dogs Making Inroads into Helping Law Enforcement Officers

Emotional Support Dogs Making Inroads into Helping Law Enforcement Officers


Everybody could use an atta boy or girl, a kind look or word, a sympathetic ear, or just a shoulder to cry on every now and then, and the people who work in law enforcement are no different. ESA (emotional support animals) organizations are predominantly nonprofit groups run on a volunteer basis.

The handlers and their dogs make visits because they know the impact the animals can have on humans. It's not unusual for these selfless folks and their furry companions to visit police stations and emergency call centers to help ease stress and bring smiles to faces that frequently deal with the saddest of stories.

Now, after numerous studies have pointed to the mental and physical benefits of animal interaction, some branches of law enforcement are beginning to bring on their own K-9 team members to act as ESAs.

For instance, recently it was announced that the Border Patrol has established a Support Canine Program for agents suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression. It's said that chaplains and agents from the agency's Peer Support and Chaplaincy programs are using therapy dogs to help improve the mental health of the Border Patrol workforce nationwide.

Employing dogs isn't new to them. The agency has been using dogs since 1986 when it began training four canines to detect humans and narcotics hidden away during smuggling attempts. The program was so successful that by the end of 1988, the agency had increased the number of K-9 teams to 79. The decision to expand the program to include therapy dogs is purportedly due to a recent spate of suicides among agents in 2022.

Doris Day said it best with this quote: "I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source."

And the uptick in the use of ESAs isn't limited to comforting those who wear a uniform. In Milford, Connecticut, the police department there recently added Officer Winston to their staff, putting him into service almost immediately when officers there found themselves in a tight spot. Trying to calm a young boy who was threatening self-harm, they called the department's newly appointed K-9 officer to help.

"Winston and I walk in, and the juvenile opened his arms right up and asked if he could pet the dog, and I said 'absolutely,'" said Officer James Cox, who is partnered with Winston's handler. Winston is the department's first emotional support slash therapy dog in their ranks.

"He's been worth his weight in gold already," Cox added. "He's trained to be a service dog, but we'll use him in an emotional support and therapeutic capacity."

He pointed to the recent incident with the boy as an example. In that case, Cox was informed that the child was not fond of police officers, but did he like dogs.

"Winston laid down next to him, and he was petting Winston as the officer was conducting the investigation," Cox explained, adding that the other officer was able to complete the investigation and the boy was willing to speak with them.

If you have a pet you feel would make a good ESA and you're up to helping others, the Alliance of Therapy Dogs can assist you in getting started.

Rebecca West

Rebecca is a writer and editor for both print and digital with a love for travel, history, archaeology, trivia, and architecture. Much of her writing has focused on human and animal health and welfare. A life-long pet owner, she has taken part in fostering dogs for military members during deployment and given many rescued and surrendered dogs the forever home they always wanted. Her two favorite canine quotes are, "Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are," and "My dog rescued me."

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