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Victoria police welcome Daisy the dog as stress reliever

The three-year-old Labrador retriever will will help officers dealing with trauma and stress

The Victoria Police Department’s newest recruit has fur, a favourite ball, a bed at the front desk — and a vital role to play for officers dealing with trauma and stress.

Daisy, a three-year-old Labrador retriever, had a badge hung around her neck Tuesday by Police Chief Del Manak in front of a large crowd at the department’s Caledonia Avenue headquarters.

Onlookers laughed as she thanked him with a face lick.

The mood was light but the message about Daisy’s role in the department was serious, since she will be spending her days as an operational-stress intervention dog.

Dogs like Daisy have proven to make “giant, huge impacts in the bettering of wellness and mental health” for police departments and other organizations, said Mike Annan, executive director of Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs Service Dogs — a division of B.C. & Alberta Guide Dogs.

They are bred, raised and trained for tasks like alerting to agitation and emotional responses, and providing support and comfort, he said. They’re provided to Victoria police and others in partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada.

Work-related stress is something police are bound to face, said Philip Ralph, director of health services for Wounded Warriors Canada, which works with veterans and police on issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s not a matter of whether or not members of the Victoria Police Department are going to face traumatic events. It’s a matter of when and how many, and more importantly, how individuals are going to react to that and what services are going to be there when they need it.”

Annan’s and Ralph’s groups came together to donate Daisy to the department, just as they did in January with a similarly trained dog for Saanich police — a first for police on Vancouver Island.

Training of such dogs costs in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Manak said Daisy has made a big impression in just a few weeks with the department.

“It’s really, really shown how comforting it is for people to have Daisy in the building, and those things are only going to grow,” he said.

He said the 2021 shootout at the Shelbourne Street Bank of Montreal branch is an example of the trauma and stress that can arise for police.

“What you saw on that day was the highest form of bravery, sacrifice and heroism, where officers were running towards gunfire,” Manak said. “I think that in itself does highlight for us some of the risks and challenges that police officers face.

“All of us have the right to go home to our families and to be well and healthy.”

Trauma is a regular part of an environment that involves responding to more than 50,000 calls every year, he said.

“High-stress incidents are occurring repeatedly, and they can [result in] long-lasting signs of stress, which includes deterioration of one’s mental well-being,” he said, adding that constant stressors add up.

“They take a toll on us as we work each day to keep our community safe.”

The department wants its members to know help is available, and that it’s OK to seek assistance, Manak said.

Daisy is one of several mental-health initiatives at the VicPD, along with an in-house psychologist and annual wellness checks for all staff, Manak said.

“Her presence and her ability to provide comfort, whether it’s a passing pat or a dedicated visit, will enrich and enlighten the days for our officers and our staff.”

The dog can also be available at times to comfort community members during the interview process after difficult experiences, Manak said.

Her primary handler is Const. Matt King, who has been an officer for close to 10 years.

“I think what drew me to this position is just seeing changes that happened in me and what I’ve seen co-workers go through,” said King, adding Daisy can bring a bit of levity and warmth “to what is a difficult job to do.”

Manak said Daisy is earning her keep. “I can tell you she puts the police chief in a better mood,” he said with a smile. “All joking aside, it is amazing what animals can do and what trained pets can do.”

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