Therapy Dog Program

The Albany Police Department implemented a Therapy Dog Program in 2019 and it is now getting national recognition as it has been featured in Police Chief Magazine.  

Shortly after his appointment in September 2018, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins took note of the need for a department-wide morale boost. As an active member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and a law enforcement officer for more than 30 years, Chief Hawkins has seen increasing challenges in the industry ranging from staff shortages, to an increase in criticism from the communities they serve and being asked to do more with less. Chief Hawkins was aware that therapy dogs were being deployed in hospitals, schools, and even courtrooms as a way of reducing anxiety and disguising tension. He wondered if law enforcement personnel, who are also routinely under high levels of stress, would have a similar positive experience if they had access to therapy dogs too. 

In November 2018, Hawkins put out a call to all department personnel, seeking volunteers to sit on a therapy dog committee and fourteen employees, sworn and non-sworn, from units across the department volunteered. Led by Sergeant Daniel Meehan, the Therapy Dog Committee researched benefits of like programs and realized there was really no blue print in the law enforcement setting. The APD decided to make their own blue print complete with handlers and specific Department policies that include allowing the therapy dogs to benefit not only the Department, but the community. 

In April 2019, Jennifer Harmon, the owner of a 15-month-old black purebred Labrador Retriever, donated her dog for use in the program and Maxie (named in honor of an Albany police officer who passed away too soon) became the first canine in Albany's Therapy Dog Program. Then the Albany Police and Fire Foundation, founded by Kevin O’Connor, received a $10,000 donation for the Program from MVP Healthcare, and later provided an additional $5,000. 

Officer Kyle Haller, was selected as the primary handler for Maxie. In June of 2019, Finn—a black Labrador rescue that received obedience training from inmates at the Brevard County Jail was acquired to his handler, Officer Joseph Lynch. Coincidentally, this dog bore the name of a fallen Albany police officer, Lieutenant John Finn. Officers Jan Mika and Joseph Acquaviva were selected as secondary handlers in the event that the primary handlers are on vacation, injured, or otherwise unable to serve in the role. 

Now, the therapy dogs regularly attend community events, where they greet residents with enthusiasm and compassion. Maxie and Finn have been to schools, the pediatric hospital at Albany Medical Center Hospital, the Center for Disability Services, and many pop-up ommunity BBQs sponsored by the police department. The dogs always greet residents with enthusiasm, love, and compassion. Maxie and Finn have also been useful during routine patrol and other department operations and have become part of the department’s culture and family.

The Albany Police Department’s therapy dog program has been fully operational for about a year. Other police departments across the United States are taking notice of this unique program and it’s effectiveness and are showing interest in starting programs of their own. Chief Hawkins has seen firsthand all the good these dogs can do and hopes Albany’s program will serve as a model to others. Click here to view the full article