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Latest police recruit in Saanich is a four-legged comforting presence

Two-year-old black lab called Beacon will serve as an ‘operational-stress intervention dog’

His official title is operational-stress intervention dog — he can sense anxiety and comfort both police officers and members of the public with his friendly, calming presence.

Beacon, a two-year-old black Labrador, has only been on the job at the Saanich Police Department for a few weeks, but he’s already a favourite at the department’s Vernon Avenue headquarters.

He’s also a first for police on Vancouver Island, and was donated to the force by Wounded Warriors Canada in partnership with Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs — a division of B.C. Guide Dogs.

Wounded Warriors Canada helps first responders, veterans and others with mental-health issues and with managing such conditions as post-traumatic-stress disorder. Dogs like Beacon can be helpful for police officers after tense situations.

Saanich media officer Const. Markus Anastasiades said Beacon is part of a “very progressive” program that officers believe in. He has a bed right outside Anastasiades’ office, and stays at the department during the day before going home with his main handler, civilian staff member Lynn George, at night and on weekends.

“I can look at him right now — he’s sleeping,” Anastasiades said Wednesday afternoon.

He said there was plenty of interest among staff in being Beacon’s main and secondary handlers. The only expense with having him is regular care and feeding.

Aside from providing ongoing support, Beacon can be brought in as needed during critical incidents and to minimize occupational-stress injuries, Anastasiades said.

He can also be of help when victims of crime and survivors of sexualized offences are being interviewed, he said.

“Certainly that’s another role that he’ll be having,” he said. “On a day-to-day basis, he’s walking around the office and people come to visit him. He has such a wonderful personality and demeanour about him.

“Everyone here loves dogs at SPD.”

Anastasiades said Saanich Police Chief Dean Duthie was quick to support the initiative to have a dog like Beacon around.

The department used to have police dogs at the station on a regular basis, but they are now part of the Integrated Canine Service operated by Victoria and Saanich police out of Victoria’s Esquimalt Division.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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