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Central Dispatch welcomes emotional support dog to staff

COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON
St. Joseph County Central Dispatch Deputy Director Regan Lucas (left) and Supervisor Rachel Gould (right) stand next to Central Dispatch’s new emotional support dog, Bolo (center), a 2-year-old standard poodle.

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

CENTREVILLE — St. Joseph County Central Dispatch’s newest employee has not two, but four legs.

On Tuesday, the agency welcomed an emotional support dog, a 2-year-old standard poodle named Bolo, to their team, with a reception held at the agency’s office next door to the Sheriff’s Department.

Bolo comes to the department via Magnum K9 of Sturgis, which trained the dog before his first day on May 22. So far, Central Dispatch Director Stacey Bower said, having Bolo in the office has worked wonders for staff.

“He’s doing pretty good. He’s learning everybody; he’s got 15 people to learn,” Bower said. “He just has a personality that can fit a lot of different people.”

Thanks to assistance from the St. Joseph County United Way, several donations from community organizations and individuals, such as the Centreville Lions Club and Three Rivers Rotary Club, helped cover the $6,500 cost for the dog. Bolo will live at Central Dispatch, and be cared for by its staff, which will have six trained handlers. Ongoing costs for the dog’s care, such as food, will be covered by Central Dispatch.

The impetus behind bringing in an emotional support dog like Bolo came this past winter during what Bower called an “especially tough day” for the dispatchers at 911. Bower said they had a “real bad morning with some real tough calls,” and were, as she described it, “down in the dumps.”

Bower had gone to the county courthouse that particular day, and came across Juliette, the emotional support dog for the Veterans Affairs department. She said she petted the dog, and that she wished her dispatchers could meet her at that point. Stoney Summey, the county’s Veterans Affairs director, said she could take Juliette over to the dispatch center and he’d come pick her up later.

“I brought her back here, brought her into the room, and it just totally changed those girls’ emotions and attitudes, and everything,” Bower said. “It was night and day. That’s when I started looking into getting our own dog.”

Around February, Bower contacted Magnum K9, who has worked extensively with the Veterans Affairs department with their service dog program. Megan Bischko, a trainer with Magnum, said they had to do special training with the dog and Central Dispatch staff before Bolo came over.

“What we did was break it down into small training groups to start out with, because there’s such a large number here, 16. Typically, when we train a dog, it goes to one handler, like our veteran programs, our service dogs,” Bischko said. “Working with such a large team, we cut it down to one person per shift, so there’s four main handlers, and then Stacey and Regan [Lucas, deputy director] are also trained too. [Bolo] just needs to understand he has to listen to everyone here just like he was trained to, and then we’ll be able to open it up to the rest of the team.”

Bischko said she’ll still come in once a week as long as they need to do some training sessions to get Bolo comfortable with the staff. However, Bolo is all moved in, with a cot in the dispatch center and a crate in a separate office.

Many of the employees, including Supervisor Rachel Gould, said Bolo has been a welcome presence in the dispatch center.

“It’s a mood-lifter for sure. It kind of takes away from the current feeling or whatever you’re dealing with that day,” Gould said. “He’s exactly what you need when you’re going through something.”

Overall, Bower said the biggest benefit of having Bolo around is the mental health of those who work the phones at 911.

“It’s going to help them be able to process the trauma we get vicariously through the phone or over the radio,” Bower said. “If I can help one of my people get through something like that that’s horrible that we deal with, that’s going to be the benefit.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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