A shaggy dog with the warm and fuzzy appeal of a stuffed animal is training to help the Chandler Police Department and crime victims recover from trauma.
Chandler Police introduced their newest four-legged member, Annie, as part of a newly formed Therapy Canine Program.
Annie, who is half golden retriever and half poodle and almost 6 months old, will be used to help boost the psychological well-being of the police department’s sworn and non-sworn employees who experience traumatic events as part of their work.
As part of the Chandler Family Advocacy Center, she will also help support victims of sexually-based offenses and children who have undergone highly stressful incidents.
Annie lives with Det. Brian Wagner, and the plan is to have her start her work this month or in February, Chandler Police Sgt. Daniel Mejia, public information officer, said.
“She’s doing great,” Mejia said. “She’s still currently in training. This breed … they’re very calm, easygoing personalities with good temperaments. This is a very good breed that is going to help out with all the therapy, not only to our personnel, police, but also to victims of crimes, especially children that have been subjected to traumatic events. These dogs are trained to basically sense emotional distress.”
The Chandler Family Advocacy Center recently opened at 221 E. Boston St. and it is attached to the department’s main station on East Chicago Street.
The new center will serve as the central spot for the department’s Special Victims Unit to work directly with other agencies on investigations involving domestic violence as well as child and elderly abuse and other physical and sexual abuse.
It also is meant to provide a comfortable, secure space for victims to get needed help as they start to heal from traumatic events.
The “simple act” of petting dogs relieves stress, Mejia said.
Arizona Goldendoodles, a dog breeder in Peoria, donated Annie to the police last July. Dr. Teri Wiblin of Faust Animal Hospital in Phoenix donated a total puppy package that included all vaccinations. K9-Games Dog Training of Peoria donated its training services to prepare Annie for her role.
“We’re very appreciative, very proud to have these partners,” Mejia said. “That’s a big plus for our agency. It’s very cost-effective and this was made possible because of these partners.”
He said he is not yet sure how much time Annie will spend with each department employee and victim, but she will come to work four days a week, 10 hours a day with Wagner.
“Our profession is very demanding,” Mejia said. “They are exposed to very traumatic events, very traumatic calls. This is another resource that our department has for the overall employee wellness. The second aspect of this is to expose this therapy dog to victims of crime.”
Maureen Simpson, owner of Arizona Goldendoodles, said therapy dogs are trained to approach people gently.
“When you see Annie, she looks like a large stuffed animal,” Simpson said. “She calms people down. She’ll put her head in your lap. She’s trained to absorb your stress, your emotions. She’s taking that away from you and you will naturally calm down.”
Therapy dogs can be trained to do things like giving people a fist bump, rolling over and performing “little magic tricks,” she added.
“That will make a child laugh that day,” Simpson said. “Maybe a memory that Annie can leave with you is that smile, even if it’s just for a few minutes.”
She said Wagner contacted her in November 2017 to see if she had a dog that would work as a therapy dog. Simpson brought Annie in front of a roundtable of several police officers who checked her out to see if she would be a good fit.
“They have to know that this was a good, healthy, emotionally stable dog,” she said. “They really put Annie through the ringer before they accepted her in this program. Nothing fazes her. She’s very loving. This is what Annie was born for. Therapy dogs are born. They have to be born with the right heart, the right soul.”
Simpson began her company breeding goldendoodles after she bred Shaggy, another goldendoodle, to help her son, Stevie, 15, who is autistic and epileptic.
“Shaggy is life-changing for my son,” she said. “What started out as a very self-serving thing turned into something that has become a business, but it’s also been a way for me to give back to the community,” she said, adding:
“Over and above anything else, Arizona Goldendoodles has become a way for my son to have an outlet. He makes a toy for every dog. We do temperament testing on every single dog to make sure they’re psychologically prepared. We’re asking a lot of them.”
Simpson said Annie is “doing a great job” in the training.
“She’s working out beautifully,” she said. “She’s exceeded everyone’s expectations. They’re so happy. I’m very passionate about what I do. I love it because of my son. That’s my heart. It’s been a therapy for him and maybe even for me.”