Too Friendly to Be a Guide Dog, Eager Pup Will Help Police in High-Crime Areas

Here's the thing about Shelby: She gets a little too excited around people.

Originally, she was supposed to be a guide dog, helping a single person. But her affinity for just about anyone has shifted her calling. Shelby, a tail-wagging 19-month-old Black English Labrador Retriever, was sworn-in Thursday as the Denver Police Department's first therapy dog.

The intent is for Shelby to help officers be more approachable. She will join downtown Denver's community resource officer, Teresa Gillian, on trips to see kids in school or senior citizens. She is also set to accompany Gillian into some of Denver's higher-crime districts, according to the Associated Press.

"Having her on the team and on the streets adds a level of comfort for our residents who may otherwise be hesitant to engage with a police officer," Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said.

Hundreds of police departments around the country use therapy dogs for a variety of tasks. In New York, therapy dogs are used to connect with officers who have gone through significant trauma. At the least, the NYPD is using the visits with the dogs as stress relief, according to the Washington Post.

The growing use of therapy dogs among law enforcement has even led to a conference meet-up. The Cops and Comfort Dogs conference was held in Groton, Massachusetts, in July and featured more than 30 therapy dogs.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Police Dog, Therapy Dog, Crime
A 15-month-old Black English Labrador Retriever named Shelby and her handler, Denver Police Department Community Resource Officer Teresa Gillian, after a swearing-in ceremony for the dog on November 4, 2021, in downtown Denver. Shelby joins a handful of other therapy dogs on the force in an effort to make positive community connections. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) Associated Press

Shelby was officially sworn onto the force Thursday by Judge Renee Goble. Goble crouched down in her black robe to get on dog level for the quick ceremony as Shelby's tail wagged.

Denver joins about 300 law enforcement agencies around the United States that have acquired therapy dogs for a range of duties, said Sgt. Jason Ratcliff of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office in Ohio. The department was believed to be one of the first agencies to use therapy dogs when it first acquired them in 2017, he said.

Some agencies use therapy dogs to accompany officers assigned to work in schools while others use the dogs to help officers who have suffered trauma or to help in community outreach, he said. Franklin County's dogs are mainly used to work with victims of crimes, including accompanying children to court, he said.

Since arriving in Denver late last month, Shelby has already been accompanying Gillian on her work in the community.

On a visit to an alternative school, one girl who said she had PTSD was interested in Shelby but a little scared, Gillian recalled. Seeming to sense the girl's mood, the dog turned over on her back, offering up her belly to be scratched, and the girl relaxed, she said.

Gillian hopes the dog will help people get to know police as part of their community, rather than a group apart from it, following protests over the killing of George Floyd last year.

"Shelby is the tool to help us bridge that gap," she said.