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Hug Dogs, Not Drug Dogs: Get To Know CPD’s New Therapy Dog Unit

The newest members of the force at the Columbus Police Department are very, very good boys.

The brand new Therapy Dog Unit was unveiled last week to the public, under the leadership of Commander Rhonda Grizzell. The dogs, who’s handlers are also their partners, will be utilized by the police to assist in a variety of ways including supporting the mental health of their fellow officers and in aiding investigations.

The new unit took inspiration from the work that the Franklin County Sherriff’s office is doing. The county established their program in 2017, with Mattis K. Nine, who became the first law enforcement therapy dog in the State of Ohio and the sixth in the nation.

Cadets in the cafeteria gather around to pet the pups of the CPD Therapy Dog Unit.

“The division is always looking for ways to continue to evolve. And, you know, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has really been at the cutting edge of this for a couple years now,” explained Commander Grizzell. “The chief saw this as an opportunity to continue to deliver services in a very different way. We always talk about, you know, that the traditional role of police and law enforcement is just to catch the bad guy. But there’s an entire element of protecting and serving that goes along with that.”

“And while catching the bad guy is a certainly a noble part of law enforcement, what can we do to help the victims of those crimes, particularly children?”

That’s where the therapy dogs come in and shine. The dogs have a way of connecting to people and getting them to feel more comfortable. That can be a real blessing, especially for victims in traumatic situations.

The dogs can be used to help younger victims feel at ease, particularly when they have to relive traumatic moments to investigators. The officers of the Therapy Dog Unit say they’ve seen a 50% increase in disclosure when the dogs are utilized during the interview.

Cadets in the cafeteria gather around to pet the pups of the CPD Therapy Dog Unit.

Cmdr. Grizzell believes that the impact those dogs could have on the victims could change their lives forever. “If you are victimized as a child, and then when you become an adult, and you realize that that person got away with it, because you couldn’t tell the story, I would imagine there’s a significant impact there that’s very, very negative, and probably hard for you to move on and recover from,” she said.

“But if you have that same scenario where you realize you had the strength to tell that and protect yourself and stand up and that person was held accountable. Yeah, there’s probably a different outcome for that person moving forward through their life.”

The unit currently consists of 5 duos. Andy, a golden retriever, and Sgt. Chantay Boxill; Eddie, a Bernese Mountain Dog mix and Officer John Gagnon; Simon, a yellow labrador (and half brother to Mattis K-9) and Officer Mike Paulins; Lenny, a golden retriever, and Officer Jim Mathys; and Ollie, a golden retriever, and Officer Jon Compson.

CPD therapy dogs photoshoot
The canines of the CPD Therapy Dog Unit. Pictured left to right: Lenny, Simon, Andy, Eddie, and Ollie.

The dogs aren’t just going to be helping the community. They’ll also help members of the police force, including their current partners. The unit is modeled after the traditional canine unit. The dog is in the handler’s care 24/7. When I asked how the group enjoyed having the pups as their partners, they all smiled.

From the fact that the dogs can’t talk back or criticize their driving, to the obvious benefit of working with an adorable creature that doles out love unconditionally all day, the officers were exceedingly happy to be doing the work they’re doing with their canine partners.

Andy of the CPD Therapy Dog Unit

The first dog to join the CPD Therapy Dog Unit was a golden retriever named Andy. Cmdr. Grizzell was still putting the department together, so she served as his first handler. She decided the best thing for him was to jump right into getting used to being around the police station, so she took him to work with her.

“That first day that I brought him to work with me was the best day I’ve ever had at work. Because every single person that I came across, smiled,” said Cmdr. Grizzell. “They sigh, their shoulders go down, they smile, they get on the floor, they play with them, they’re laughing. And that’s just a cool thing to witness over and over and over all day long at work.”

Eddie of the CPD Therapy Dog Unit

While a few of the dogs on the squad came from a service dog program, Eddie, a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog, was a rescue from the Franklin County Dog Shelter. The unit hopes that more dogs will be able to join from the shelter. The program doesn’t care about the breed or size of a dog, just it’s temperament. The most important thing they can have is a warm, comforting personality.

“These dogs are strictly therapy dogs,” laughed Cmdr. Grizzell. “These are hug dogs, not drug dogs.”

The unit’s training is almost complete and their graduation is set for August 30th. After that, they’ll begin their duties around Columbus. If you see them out and about, be sure to give them some extra love.

I’ll leave you with this outtake from our photoshoot with the squad. What can I say? It’s hard work being so adorable.

Group of CPD therapy dogs