Volunteers Launch Therapy Dog Pilot Program for Dallas Officers

Since the shooting at a Dallas Home Depot killed one officer and seriously injured another in the Dallas Police Department’s Northeast Division, a small pilot program has launched to give officers extra comfort.

In an open area near the back door where officers come and go, therapy dogs sit ready to offer a little love.

“He picks up on that sorrow and that stress and he’s like OK, who can I make feel better?” said Allison Russell, the owner of a Golden Retriever named Brisbane.

Russell, the wife of a Dallas officer, said Brisbane’s intuition was first tested in the aftermath of the July 7, 2016 ambush on officers. Her husband was downtown when four DPD and one DART officer was killed. Looking for a way to help, Russell brought Brisbane by the Northeast Division to meet officers that July 8th.

“You could just see, even for just a brief minute, a sense of relief come across all the officers and their shoulders kind of relaxed,” she said.

Brisbane was called on again in 2018 after Officer Rogelio Santander was killed and Officer Crystal Almeida was badly wounded. This time, Russell recruited other certified therapy dog owners she met in Brisbane’s training program at Zoom Room in Trophy Club. They spent a week at the Northeast Division where Russell recognized there was a need to continue to offer the help.

“I think it gives them an opportunity to have a moment of relief by petting a dog or interacting,” said Russell. “It gives them the opportunity to go out on the street and say I can do it.”

Of the six other dog owners and dogs recruited to volunteer in the dog therapy program, none live or work in Dallas. Russell is the only spouse of an officer.

Jessica Haran, a special education teacher in Lewisville, said she didn’t hesitate to give her time when Russell reached out.

“There’s something special about seeing that big smile on a police officer down on the ground, baby-talking to the dogs,” said Haran. Her chocolate Lab, Rose, regularly works with kids at Haran’s school. The transition to visiting police officers made sense.

Deputy Chief Avery Moore, the East Patrol Division Commander, said he appreciates what the volunteers are giving officers.

“Because of a tragic situation here for us, it’s been very comforting for our officers,” said Chief Moore. “They love the dogs, they pet them, they look forward to seeing them. You can see a change, they walk in and their eyes light up.”

Moore said he encourages officers to take those moments with the dogs, to take care of their emotional and mental well-being so they’re better equipped to care for others.

“A lot of times we forget as officers that we’re human. We bring in the same life struggles and bad stuff that everybody does, but we have a responsibility that we have to release that so we can go out and serve properly,” said Moore.

“My personal hope is we do something here for the officers that’s good and positive and gives them that sense of relief,” said Russell. “That positive interaction is then taken out into their community.”

Russell said the program is free to the city. All of the dog owners volunteer their time. The plan is to visit officers more regularly, with hopes of eventually expanding the program. She is looking for more volunteers and dogs.

If you’d like to learn more about how to help, you can call Zoom Room, 817-380-8606.

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