Therapy Dogs Help Chicago Police Relieve Overwhelming Workplace Stress


A dog walks into the room.

His name is Teddy.

He pauses before addressing the call from Chicago police officers assigned to the city’s most dangerous areas.

What happens then is remarkable: the silent pursuit of cops in crisis Chicago last year by an elite volunteer corps of therapy dogs trained to calm victims of disasters, confrontations, chaos and catastrophes.

But Teddy, the observant goldendoodle, is no police dog.

The silky mane dog is a rescuer who does not bark or bite. He’s tasked with reducing the stress levels, blood pressure and trauma of police officers assigned to CPD’s community safety patrol in the city’s most violent areas.

Their office is on the ground floor for police calls, sitting next to or lying next to men and women in bulletproof vests and heavy equipment.

Shot down from units across the city since the 2020 protests and riots that followed the murder of black American George Floyd, the Community Safety Patrol is also assigned areas dealing with the massive rise in shootings, gang crimes streets and too many children injured or killed on the South and West Sides of Chicago.

Last July, Chicago Police Officer Ella French, 29, a member of the Community Safety Patrol, was one of the people who patted Teddy’s head as he sat on the floor next to him. during his police call at McCormick Place.

Left to right: Constables Klaudia Zylinska, Renata Klepacki and Carly Cervantez interact with therapy dog ​​Ariel on Wednesday after a call to the 18th district police station,
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

It was there that Officer French and hundreds of colleagues greeted one of their own who had died alone, an unexpected death after his 12-hour non-leave shift ended.

Several weeks later, Officer French was also deceased.

On August 7, she was shot in the head at close range by a gunman while performing a routine traffic check in Englewood.

The next day, Teddy would return to McCormick’s house to help Constable French’s fellow police officers mourn his death – as well as the catastrophic shooting of his partner, Carlos Yanez.

“I did not know the French officer, but I recognized his photo and remembered his smile and his joy as he stroked Teddy lying next to him in this audience of grief mourning the untimely death of the officer of police, ”said the retired police sergeant. Cindy Gross, Teddy’s mistress. Gross is a 30-year veteran of the police service who retired in 2001 after years of working undercover in drugs, vice and prostitution.

Gross has since dedicated his time and pets to therapy dog ​​work with the Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy Group in Morton Grove – and is now responsible for 20 teams of Rainbow volunteers working with the Chicago Police Department. The organization is fully funded by donations; it has no salaried employees.

“These policemen go to war every day,” Gross said.

“They’ve seen it all, are exhausted from 12 hour shifts, no days off, no vacations, little family time to relax – which is very difficult to do if families need child care. – and the feeling that they are not supported by politicians or the public, ”she said. “They were beaten.

“Police officers find it hard to talk about what they’re going through, but you’d be amazed how they bend over a dog’s fur and talk to them. It is breathtaking.

“I don’t let Teddy determine his direction, but these dogs somehow find who needs it most,” said Gross, who continues to take Teddy to hospitals, autism centers and first responders in need of help. ‘aid. “Our organization Rainbow is also a disaster partner with the American Red Cross.

Officer Carly Cervantez greets therapy dog ​​Teddy on Wednesday as Cindy Gross watches before a roll call at the 18th District Police Station.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Robert Sobol, director of CPD’s peer support counseling program, who, along with peer manager Bea Staszewski, gave the go-ahead for Rainbow canine therapy support last year.

“If there is a way to recover from stress each day by smiling, touching, becoming calm or being able to grieve by petting a therapy dog, stress reduction can become a habit,” said Sobol.

“We have had dogs before that have helped after a traumatic incident, but nothing like this ability to tap into the amazing Rainbow organization.

“I used to bring my wonderful, sloppy big rescue dog, Mason, a lab and mastiff mix to the office, and he encouraged them to start talking,” he added.

Retired Chicago Police Detective Roland Paulnitsky works alongside Cindy Gross with her PTSD-trained Labrador Ariel as they travel to neighborhoods they consider too dangerous for other Rainbow volunteers.

“We are trained in police work and while working with the dogs last year on the 15th Austin Ward Police District roll call we encountered gunshots leaving the station,” Gross said. . “It was pop pop pop to our left. A shot dead person. One person down. Then two shots at the same time. So very close. It’s horrible. And Roland and I can carry arms.

“Therapy dogs absorb all of the negative stress and energy, so you have to be careful about how long you work them at a time. A little help in dog therapy can help a person concentrate a bit.

A dog watch. How heartwarming.

Needles …

Best wishes to the indomitable Carol Carroll, recovering from an operation at Evanston Hospital. Saturday birthdays: James Marsden, 48, Jada Pinkett Smith, 50, and Ben Carson, 70. Sunday birthdays. Jimmy Fallon, 47; Sanaa Lathan, 50, and Trisha Yearwood, 57.

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