Wellbeing dogs used by South Yorkshire Police to help officers cope with trauma

Written by Caitlin Eckley

More than a dozen dogs have been trained to help South Yorkshire police officers improve their wellbeing, following traumatic incidents.

Following a suitability assessment and thorough training, the dogs are there to support officers and staff and help them to open up about things they are struggling with.

The dogs release oxytocin which leads to trust and a sense of security. It also help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety by increasing cortisol.

Chief Constable Lauren Poultney said: “Our police officers and staff work incredibly hard to keep our communities safe, and will often be exposed to danger, trauma and stress in their line of duty.

“In recent years, police forces nationwide have recognised the value of dogs in helping the workforce with their wellbeing. When a dog scampers into a room, the atmosphere instantly changes and people want to fuss over the dog. It is an incredibly simple but effective way of encouraging our teams to open up when they’re having a difficult time.”

The wellbeing and trauma support dogs are part of the ‘OK9’ branch of Oscar Kilo, which is the National Police Wellbeing Service that looks after the mental health of police officers and staff.

Sgt Garry Botterill, 59, the Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dog Project Lead, said: “We find that dogs are a furry bridge to communication and it really helps people to talk about things that perhaps they wouldn’t want to talk about.”

When talking about the success of the project, he said: “It’s been phenomenal, it’s been absolutely amazing.”

Following pilot schemes, Garry said they found people were going for walks with the dog handlers, who are mental health first aiders and peer supporters, and were able to open up about things they were struggling with.

Plans are in place to get more furry friends involved in the project soon.

Written by Caitlin Eckley

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