People needing comfort and relief from stress from a traumatic situation are getting the aid of a furry figure from the Scottsdale Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Services.
Fozzie — a 67-pound, 14-month-old golden retriever — is the newest full-time member of the department’s crisis unit, and soon will serve as a first responder to crises on a case-by-case basis.
Fozzie, believed to be the first full-time crisis response dog in the nation, arrived in Scottsdale last month through a donation from Paws With a Cause, a nonprofit assistance dog provider in Michigan.
Fozzie is still in training, learning commands, and he will begin serving the department in about a month, according to Phil Riccio, supervisor of the department’s crisis unit.
Because Fozzie has a mild hip dysplasia condition, he has changed careers before his first one started. Paws with a Cause initially was training him to be a service dog, but since he would not be physically capable, he’ll serve in other ways.
“Fozzie is there to kind of bridge the gap of communication during a traumatic situation and soothe and comfort people,” Riccio said. “When elderly people deal with a sudden death, people experience domestic violence or when there are crimes against children, Fozzie will be used to help provide a bit of a distraction for those who are traumatized.”
Law enforcement agencies around the country have used such dogs to assist in crisis situations such as during 9/11, the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and at the Virginia Tech shootings last year, Riccio said.
Anthony Pagliuca, crisis intervention specialist with the unit, will be the primary handler for Fozzie; another crisis intervention specialist, Eric Shinn, will be the secondary handler. Fozzie will live with Pagliuca and get paid in dog food and biscuits with an occasional scratching behind the ears when he’s not resting in his large carrier in the office, Pagliuca said.
Pagliuca and Shinn said they started considering to get a dog for the department in October, soon after the death of Case Grande police Sgt. Tate Lynch. Lynch, 36, died
at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital after he fell from a wall during SWAT exercises with the Pinal County SWAT Team.
“There were about 80 to 100 people at the hospital, but many people were having trouble communicating over the loss,” Pagliuca said. “We found ourselves struggling to help those who had just lost a brother. Sometimes, there’s just no words you can say, and the presence of an animal can help ease the stress.”
After a 14-layered approval process, Fozzie and his amicable temperament are being welcomed by everyone.
“A dog can be great for grounding people who have been traumatized,” Shinn said.
“They can help people to open up and maybe talk more than they normally would.”