Officer Kristine Rzewnicki, of the Leesburg Police in Virginia, has made a impact on her department after discovering the Thin Line Service Dogs nonprofit this past summer. They had always wanted to create a wellness program for the department, and this presented an amazing opportunity for them.
Kristine filled out an application to become a volunteer and train a puppy. She soon learned she would be paired with a one-year-old Golden Retriever, named Mooney. The dog was named after Stafford County Deputy Sheriff, Jason Mooney, who was killed on the job in 2007.
Now two weeks into work, Mooney is already making an impact on the department! Rather than supporting officers in the community, Mooney stays within the department. However, if there is a critical event, such as a pediatric patient coding, or an officer injured, Mooney will leave the office to assist in the field.
“It’s paramount because oftentimes there’s still a stigma with mental wellness and emotional well-being in the first responder profession,” Rzewnicki said. “Sometimes, just having a dog around and someone touches and pets a dog, they don’t realize the impact that it’s had on their emotions, in their physiology. It just happens organically.”
Mooney is identified with his vest in the office and is constantly being pet and giving support throughout the day. The service dog also participates in roll call, to be there for officers particularly after tough nights or rough calls. “It was a perfect opportunity for me to be here in the morning and touch base with officers, and just see them touch him and their faces light up (and) smile,” she said.
Anjanette Montano, founder of Thin Line Service Dogs, said Mooney is learning about stressors, blood flow and differences in heart rates. The nonprofit gives service dogs to disabled first responders and veterans for free. Volunteers, like Officer Rzewnicki, are relied upon by the organization to train the new puppies.
This mutually beneficial relationship allows all parties to gain from the experience and after about a year, Mooney will move onto a new assignment. “We don’t have to wait until a dog is placed as a service dog to give back to our heroes,” Montano said.
“It is so imperative that we get these dogs in the hands of our first responders and our veterans to help mitigate what they’re going through, to move that PTSD somewhere else when they’ve had a critical incident,” Montano continued. “He’s always smiling,” Rzewnicki said. “It’s hard not to smile and relax when you’re around him.”
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