There are many K9 Units in Police Departments across the country, and around the world. At the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio, (FCSO) they have created a groundbreaking K9 program that also now serves as a model program for other departments to follow. You may recognize the name from the A&E® Network TV Show, Live PD™. The program was the brainchild of Deputy Darrah Metz and is lead and coordinated by Sgt. Jason Ratcliff.
Not all K9’s are created equal
The term ‘K9’ is defined as A police dog, that is specifically trained to assist police and other law enforcement personnel. Many are not aware that this term has various meanings. Not all K9’s work to catch the ‘bad guys’. In fact, many K9’s called Therapy Dogs advocate on the side of the ‘good guys’ (the victims).
At the age of 23, Sgt. Jason Ratcliff’s desire to help people led him to the Police Academy. His journey in law enforcement has taken him from Corrections, Patrol, to Patrol Supervisor. Lastly, Sgt. Ratcliff settled in as leader of Community Relations (eventually added K9) for FCSO.
Unlike some Departments, FCSO did have an existing K9 unit. The unit consists of 15 K9’s (and Officer/Handlers). The duties of each vary. K9’s are trained and utilized for specific areas of law enforcement and are called ‘dual purpose canines’. The K9 officer’s responsibilities include; Patrol, Explosive Detection, Narcotics Detection, Special Investigation, Electronic Sniffing/ Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Undercover Raids, as well as Search Warrants.
Included within the Community Relations Department are both the Therapeutic and Public Relations aspects. The therapeutic aspect is in depth and frankly, outstanding. Therapy K9’s are within the Community Relations department, yet separate from the K9 Unit. The FCSO Therapy Dog Unit is a community service and support created to aid victims and give them an outlet from the mental, physical, or psychological effects of experienced trauma. Additionally, people with mental health challenges and psychiatric disorders benefit from their interaction with therapy dogs as well.
FCSO has created a partnership with Franklin County Children’s Services and works closely with Nationwide Children’s Hospital-Child Advocacy Center (CAC). It is an unfortunate fact, that therapy K9’s may be called upon sometimes up to 5 times a week for their assistance. When a child has been abused, (many times sexual in nature) FCSO Therapy K9 is called upon to be on site. The protocol begins with the child being interviewed by a Forensic Specialist (civilian). In another room are a detective, pediatrician, psychologist, and a social worker, watching the interview take place. The idea behind this is so as the child does not have to relive the trauma beyond the interview. Once the interview is performed, the detective leaves with a DVD chronicling the information to assist with criminal prosecution. This then allows the medical professionals to create a plan for the child’s healing as well. CAC also offers long term care by the way of a Mood & Behavioral Unit in the Hospital. The unit consists of children with extremely high anxiety, ages ranging from 11-18 years. For some, their anxiety is such that they cannot attend school. CRC will request Therapy Dogs for single or group sessions from 3-5 days a week. Currently, Nationwide Children’s Hospital is in the process of building an adolescent behavioral center. They could not have funded the project without the $50 Million donations provided by Big Lots®. The center will be completed in 2020 and will boast to be the largest of its kind. To further the process, the director of the Mental Health and Behavioral Unit is working toward obtaining a grant, so CAC may have a full-time Therapy Dog on staff.
On a bit of a lighter side, is the community events or public relations aspect. This is when the K9 and officers are out in the community but not necessarily be utilized therapeutically. The officers (both with 4 and 2 legs) will attend festivals, church functions and the like. They are creating a bond with the community through these events. Requests can be made for not just therapy dogs, but many other useful activities such as; child ID and distracted driving trailers that demonstrate the dangers of texting/drinking and driving.
The Therapy Dog unit is also utilized for Veteran support in Military & Veterans Service Court (M.A.V.S.). Therapy Dogs are on premises to assist the veterans in keeping calm. Petting a dog has significant health benefits and is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate. The M.A.V.S docket works with specialists who properly diagnose mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, as well as substance abuse issues in veterans. Offenses are misdemeanors, and they must make a connection between their offense and their Military service. Often, the offense is attributed to PTSD. Participating veterans then work with social workers who help them find the services they need, including housing, treatment, and employment. Mandatory to the program, is for veterans to meet with court officials on a regular basis to report on their progress and set goals. Veterans must complete the program set forth for them by the VA, judge and Social Workers. The result of this program has resulted in a reduction in jail time as well as hospital stays and an increase in veterans returning to college and being gainfully employed.
Ending the Mental Health Stigma
As you can see from the information before you, therapy dogs play an important role in helping people of all ages work through trauma, mental health issues and more. Sgt. Ratcliff (and the FCSO Therapy K9’s) mission is to create awareness, reduce and eventually end the mental health stigma.
A Model Program
Therapy Dogs an invaluable service to the community. Out of 18,000 Law Enforcement agencies in the country, there were only 6 agencies (at the time FCSO began their program) equipped with a Therapy Dog Unit. FCSO has built their therapy dog program from the ground up and has assisted other agencies both here and around the globe in launching similar programs. FCSO has created a model in the Therapy Dog program ranks for programs and procedures. A possible long-term goal for FCSO is to be a Therapy Dog Unit training center where they can create a model program for other agencies to replicate.
The Therapy K9 Unit for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (Sgt. Ratcliff and Deputy Darrah Metz) have created a dedicated unit, providing victim advocacy. Also, providing comfort for victims of crime, alleviating anxiety for mental health issues. Along with serving the community, they are creating a bond with its members. You can not put a price on the importance of the job they do.
FCSO’s program is run by the generous donations of the community they so proudly serve. If you are interested in supporting the FCSO, you may donate in the following ways:
You may donate directly to the Therapy K9 Program:
Make a check payable to:
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (in Memo-Therapy K9 Program)
Mail to: Community Response Bureau
c/o Sergeant Jason Ratcliff
900 N. Hague Ave
Columbus, OH 43204
You may donate to the Vet care:
Make a check payable to:
Healthy Pets of Rome Hilliard (in Memo- Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Therapy K9)
Mail to: Healthy Pets of Rome Hilliard
2194 Hilliard-Rome Road,
Hilliard, OH 43026
You may donate to the Grooming Services:
Make check payable to:
Sassy Dogs Salon (in Memo- Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Therapy K9)
Mail To: Sassy Dogs Salon
4529 Scioto Darby Rd.
Hilliard, Ohio 43026
Follow them on Social Media
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Therapy K9 Unit – Facebook and Twitter @FCSOTherapyK9
Deputy Sheriff Darrah Metz-Twitter- @K9Mattis
Sergeant Jason Ratcliff-Twitter- @K9Kit
Thank you to Sgt. Ratcliff (and the FCSO Therapy Dog Unit) for the work you do!
We would like to thank those in Law Enforcement (including the Four-legged ones) who put their lives on the line, every day to keep their communities safe. We appreciate the brave men, women and K9’s for the service and dedication they show each day. We appreciate the compassion shown by our K9 Therapy Dogs and officers when handling delicate human situations.
May you return home safely to your families after every shift.
The Pickles Project would love to hear from you:
Are you a K9 handler or trainer that would like to be featured on the Pickles Project? Contact us: info@thePicklesProject.com
Be sure to check out our other K9 Corner Stories here: https://thepicklesproject.com/category/k9-corner/
Story by: The Pickles Project
Photos Courtesy: Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Therapy K9 Unit