TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - The two newest K9s to join the Pima County Sheriffs Department are on the lookout for hugs, not drugs.
The department introduced Nova and Echo, two Labradors, as school resource officer therapy dogs during a press conference at Tortolita Middle School on Tuesday morning, March 5.
“Sometimes it’s harder for kids to approach police, for whatever their reasons are,” said Deputy Brittany Caudillo, the school’s resource officer and handler of Echo. “But I’ve had relationships with kids I’ve never met before all because of Echo. Kids that are struggling here or have had problems, kids that would never come up to me, I actually get to check in with because they want to see Echo.”
“Teenagers are always kind of suspicious about adults that want to make connections with them, especially if that adult is wearing a badge and carrying a gun,” said Rex Scott, principal of Tortolita Middle School. “So having the dogs here is just another way the school resource officer can connect with kids.”
After traumatic experiences at schools, officials say the benefits of a stress-relieving, calming presence like a therapy dog can help students cope.
"Who can't smile, who can't have a better day when they're petting a dog?" smiled Sheriff Mark Napier as he spoke during Tuesday's press conference.
The program began after PCSD began introducing therapy dogs into jails. It has been such an overwhelming success, Sheriff Napier helped expand the program to schools.
“The stress our children go through nowadays is all over the headlines,” said Napier. “The extension of this program into schools is logical, and I think we will experience the same success.”
Officials with the PCSD plan to expand the program upon a successful review of both Echo and Nova’s presence inside local schools.