Last year the Atlanta Police Department launched its Police Animal Wellness Support (PAWS) Unit with Scout, its first emotional support dog. Since then it has added three more canines, Rocky, Willa and Cub.
Also, all four dogs have been sponsored by Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, which is paying for them and their related expenses.
Maj. LeAnne Browning, who founded PAWS, rescued Scout, who is part Tennessee Mountain Cur, a breed known for squirrel hunting. Last year, Browning approached then-Police Chief Erika Shields, an avid dog lover, about bringing canines into the precincts. She brought Scout to the police headquarters downtown in January as a test run, and by March, Scout had the full run of the facility.
“She has favorite people; officers and staff come to my office just to see her. She gets lots of treats,” Browning said in a news release.
These emotional support dogs go through special training and must pass a temperament test and thorough evaluation.
“The dogs must be people-oriented,” said Browning. “They are with us to lift spirits, help the officers decompress and serve as a bridge to the community.”
The dogs serve as companions to police officers as well as to crime victims. Scout passed the test with flying colors and the police, with full support of interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant, has since added more dogs to the PAWS program.
According to Browning, because the police’s handlers want to work with the dogs in addition to their current assignments, PAWS was expanded to include more dogs, including Rocky and Willa. Officer Scott Jergler has Rocky, a 2-year-old pit bull that loves children. Jergler, assigned to the Police Athletic League, takes Rocky to the gym in the community where he works.
Investigator Summer Benton, who works in homicide, is handling Willa, who is just a puppy, called a “recruit.” Benton, who investigates major crimes, uses Willa to help relieve the stress of victims and their families.
“It’s a real wellness opportunity for staff and civilians,” Browning said.
Finally, Animal Cruelty Liaison Unit Investigator Joseph Latosky is handling Cub.
Atlanta Fine Homes co-founder and Executive Chair Jenny Pruitt, an Atlanta Police Foundation board member, first heard about the program through that organization. A dog lover herself, Pruitt is also the Atlanta Humane Society board’s vice chair.
“Supporting a successful program like PAWS that works with dogs was a natural fit for us,” she said.