About a year ago, Major Kim Burbrink of the Louisville Metro Police Department noticed that morale was low among the officers in the 7th division.
“So much of police work is dark and negative,” says Burbrink, ”and those experiences can collectively weigh on an officer.”
She wanted to find a way to bring some positivity into the officers’ workdays, and pretty quickly came up with the idea of incorporating adoptable shelter dogs into police patrols. She reached out to Ozzy Gibson, the current director of Louisville Metro Animal Services and a former LMPD Colonel.
“I reached out to [Gibson] and explained to him that I wanted to maybe pick some dogs up from the shelter and bring them to the division and let the officers interact with them,” says Burbrink. “And he said, absolutely.”
Paws on Patrol was born, and it was a hit with the officers and the public.
“It does add a little bit of responsibility to our plate,” says Officer Christopher Hodge. “But at the same time, in those slow moments when you’ve got dog sitting next to you and you’re able to just relax and pet them and take care of them, and take your mind off of maybe what you just experienced, it’s a de-stresser.”
Officers in the 7th division work 12-hour shifts, and they can opt to bring a dog along with them for all or part of that shift. Paws on Patrol dogs travel with the officers to visit desk clerks and detectives, and they ride along in the police cars.
“They make calls for service and they stay in the car,” explains Officer Kelly Lietz. “They don’t go into the houses with us or anything like that, but again the dogs love it every time we come out to the car from a run, it’s to a smile on the face and a wagging tail.”
While the dogs raise morale among police officers, interaction with people improves the dogs’ lives, too.
“It can be detrimental to the dogs’ well-being to be in a shelter for an extended period of time,” says Stephanie Jackson, Foster Coordinator for Louisville Metro Animal Services. “Dogs need human interaction. They thrive on that. It makes them happy to see people and to be touched by people. And sometimes in a shelter they don’t get that so it’s really important that we are able to provide that to them so they have the best life that they can while they’re here.”
Since these dogs are adoptable animals, the socialization they get while on patrol is invaluable for their future prospects as family pets.
“If I go and get a dog, it’s not just with me all day,” says Hodge. “It may interact with my partners, and it gives it the opportunity to engage with the public. We give that feedback to Metro Animal Services because that helps them. They only know that dog in how it reacts to them, whether it be in a foster home or at their shelter. We can [tell them] we noticed that it did great with kids at the park. A cat ran right by and it didn’t respond to it at all. Those are great pieces of information to help them get permanently homed in a happy home.”
Officer Lietz says that the first dog she took on patrol with her was adopted within a day. Helping to successfully home a shelter dog is one of the many rewarding parts of the program.
“Getting the dogs out of [the shelter], being able to interact with the community in a positive way, it brings everybody together,” says Lietz. “The dogs are happy. We’re happy. The community is happy to see this type of program. It comes full circle, which I think is a great thing.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2501, which originally aired on October 5, 2019. Watch the full episode.