DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. -- Police departments across the country are struggling to deal with an epidemic in officer suicides. Agencies are looking for new ways to help officers cope with the traumatic events they witness every day.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office is about to start a new program pairing a deputy who was nearly killed in the line of duty with a therapy dog that can help save lives.
Law enforcement agencies use K-9s in a variety of roles to catch bad people, find drugs and search buildings.
“It's more efficient, they're quicker, they're very accurate," Franktown Animal Clinic veterinarian Dr. David Swieckowski said.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office is about to get a brand-new K-9 with a unique role.
“We are looking to purchase a therapy dog to work with first responders and Dan's wellness program," Swieckowski said.
Det. Dan Brite said being a K-9 handler is probably the one thing he hasn't done in his career, but that's about to change as Douglas County becomes one of the first law enforcement agencies in the metro area to adopt a therapy dog.
Brite recently helped start the sheriff's office wellness program. He was shot in the line of duty trying to stop a gunman three years ago.
"Realizing the things those first responders had to go through mentally, I knew we needed to deploy different tactics. The old-school way -- the culture of 'suck it up or just deal with it' -- it isn't working anymore. We deal with far too much trauma for that to be effective," Brite said.
In recent months, the sheriff's office has been borrowing South Metro Fire Rescue's therapy dogs and have found them to be extremely helpful.
“We’ve seen benefits of that, from the lowering stress and anxiety and blood pressure. We look at the therapy dog as them opening the door for that employee to get that help they need," Brite said.
Now, the nonprofit organization Friends of Douglas County K-9 (K-9 Friends) is raising money and helping Brite find the perfect dog to be his new partner.
“Those people have PTSD, depression, stress. Dan has found with therapy dogs, people open up more, they show up to meetings more. And Dan is a hero in what he is doing, helping save lives," said Swieckowski, who serves as board president of the nonprofit.
Brite knows his new pup will be everyone's best friend.
“I fully expect people to eventually forget my name and ask for the K-9's name. I expect that, which is perfectly fine because that's what he is there for. He will be a symbol of: we are finally investing in mental health for our employees and their families. I think that’s really important to see that every day," he said.
They say the ideal dog won't be the typical police dog, like a Malinois or shepherd, but probably a mixed breed. Friends of Douglas County K-9 is hoping to raise enough money, about $18,000, to purchase a dog in the next few weeks.
The group has a fundraising gala on Sept. 18 and is accepting donations through its website.