More than just Therapy Dogs

More than just Therapy Dogs
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Deputy Braden Long, a school resource officer at Southeast of Saline, is the proud handler of Camo, a lively 1-year-old male black Lab. Celebrating his birthday on March 9, Camo still possesses all the playful energy of a puppy, displaying it every day. Joining Deputy Long in March 2023, Camo has quickly become an integral part of the team. Deputy Long has been serving with the Saline County Sheriff Office since January 2016 and took on the role of Resource Officer at Southeast of Saline in November 2019.

Across the County at Ell-Saline, Deputy Tyler Casteel is the dedicated handler of Jax, a charming Alaskan Malamute/Husky mix. At 3 years old, Jax brings a sense of maturity to his role. Deputy Casteel has been a member of the Saline County Sheriff Office since May 2019 and transitioned into the position of Resource Officer at Ell-Saline in 2021. In December 2022, Jax joined Deputy Casteel in his duties as a school resource officer.

Although Deputy's Long and Casteel canine partners may not fit the traditional image of police dogs, they are both exceptional companions. Contrary to the stereotypical image of fierce and intense K9s, Camo and Jax are gentle and affectionate. Their primary responsibility is to provide comfort through cuddles and pets. When students face crises or difficult times, these furry friends are there to sit patiently and allow the kids to find solace in their presence.

The dogs also serve a crucial role in victim interviews. Their specialized training extends to multiple areas, including therapy and child victim interviews involving sexual offenses, trauma, or domestic violence. Research has shown that individuals are more likely to disclose information when a dog is present, as opposed to solely interacting with law enforcement officers. In addition to the role both Jax and Camo have in their schools, the two also assist in the event of a crisis or emergency within the county, where the K9s and their handlers are ready to provide assistance alongside first responders.

Both Camo and Jax hail from Paws and Stripes, an organization based in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Deputy's Long and Casteel made the journey to Florida to bring these remarkable dogs back to Saline County. These are the first dogs from Paws and Stripes to join the Saline County Sheriff's Office. Furthermore, Deputy's Long and Casteel are the first school resource officers in the state of Kansas to work alongside dogs full-time. Except for summer break, the dogs faithfully report to duty every day. Students from kindergarten to 12th grade relish the opportunity to interact with these furry companions, showering them with affectionate gestures such as petting and hugging. Prior to their arrival, the dogs underwent training through the Paws and Stripes program, which included exposure to various distractions, such as paw and tail pulling. This training went beyond mere obedience skills and encompassed socialization efforts. The Deputy's trip to Florida also included visits to restaurants, stores, and elevator and stair training to ensure the dogs were comfortable and well-behaved in different environments. This unique training approach distinguishes these dogs from their conventional law enforcement counterparts, emphasizing a more relaxed yet intensively focused training regimen.

Camo proudly wears a therapy patch on his vest, which reads "pet me," signaling his role as a source of social interaction for both children and adults. Unlike a "typical" K9, Camo welcomes and thrives on being petted. Both dogs are certified by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as therapy dogs. At home with the Deputy's, they are cherished members of their respective families.

The students at the school respond enthusiastically to the presence of these remarkable animals. They eagerly participate in activities such as walking the dogs and engaging in joyful interactions with them. Deputy Long conceived the idea for this program and presented it to his Lieutenant last July. Both Deputy's Long and Casteel embraced the concept wholeheartedly and brought it to the attention of the Sheriff. Despite extensive research conducted nationwide, they discovered that no other agency provided the unique services offered by Paws and Stripes.

Over the Summer, the Deputies will partner with the Salina Public Library to initiate a reading program involving the dogs and children. They also have plans for various programs during the summer to keep Camo and Jax active and engaged in the community.

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