COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Five canine officers graduated from the inaugural month-long Second Chances Therapy K9 School program and joined the City of Columbus Division of Police Friday.
The program, developed as a collaboration between the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and the Franklin County Dog Shelter, had nine participants.
Dogs Andy, Eddie, Ollie, Lenny, and Simon are from Columbus; Mechanicsburg Police had one dog in training, Chief; the final three dogs were from out-of-state agencies — the University of Kentucky Police (Hudson) and Tempe Police (Otis and Alex) from Tempe, AZ.
Most of the dogs were supplied by the agencies, but Eddie and Alex were saved from the Franklin County Dog Shelter.
The staff at the shelter evaluated the two dogs to determine if they had the temperament to be a therapy dog before connecting them with the agencies.
Each of the dogs underwent a month of extensive training, according to Master K9 Trainer Darrah Metz, a deputy sheriff for Franklin County.
She explained the dogs will not be like other canine officers.
“They’re not going to be out there sniffing drugs, explosives. They’re not going to track down suspects,” said Metz. “These dogs primarily will be for officer wellness, victim advocacy, mental health, and trauma.”
The dog’s ability to calm those interacting with them is what is being sought for officers who have had a “critical incident” or victims of a crime or trauma.
“It’s helpful to have a companion or a dog right there with you,” said Metz. “It makes it a little bit easier for kids and victims to tell their story when you just have that outlet.”
The program is also a boon for the dogs, especially those being saved from the shelter.
“If we can give them that second chance to go out and then help others who might need a second chance as well, and I’m talking human beings, it’s a win-win-win all across the board,” said Metz.
Outside of work, Officer John Gagnon, Eddie’s human partner, has been working with a therapy dog for two years prior to linking up with his new four-legged colleague.
When he had a chance to do the same at the police department, he jumped at the chance.
Gagnon added that the second-chance aspect of the program is what makes it so great.
“This is the great American story — from off the streets to now working for the city and helping people, I don’t think you can beat that,” said Gagnon.
Each of the dogs working for Columbus received their badge Friday and will be working as early as next week.