Meet “America,” the Skokie Police Department’s new comfort-dog-in-training!
America’s journey to the Skokie Police Department began on Independence Day 2023, when officers came into possession of an abandoned female pit bull who had no chip or collar. The dog fit a recent troubling trend observed by the department, in which individuals breed dogs only to abandon the mother after her puppies are weaned.
With local animal shelters and adoption agencies at capacity, the department temporarily housed the dog in the station’s garage kennel while working to find her a “forever” home. Officers soon discovered that she had a very gentle, sweet disposition, and aptly named her “America” – or “Meri” for short – in honor of the day she was found.
After several days of fruitless phone calls, and with a hot stretch of weather in the forecast, Chief Brian Baker made the decision to bring America inside the air-conditioned station, where she quickly found somewhere she felt comfortable – his office. Foot traffic to Chief Baker’s office increased exponentially, and his smiling sidekick soon became the most popular albeit unofficial member of the force.
Unable to find America a foster family or shelter, and reluctant to lose their newest recruit, officers proposed a creative solution: training America to be an official “comfort dog.” Many police departments in the region have implemented comfort dog programs, which provide comfort to crime victims, community members and employees who’ve experienced traumatic incidents, interact with the community, support schools when beneficial, and comfort families after the loss of a loved one. The Skokie Police Department’s co-responder team, which responds to individuals in crisis, has also experienced many circumstances where the use of a comfort dog could be helpful in their response.
On Friday, September 7, America embarked on her new career, and was transported to the SIT Service Dogs training facility in southern Illinois to be assessed for her potential to become a comfort dog through their “Pawfficer Program.” She passed with flying colors.
What’s next for Meri? Over the next four to six months, she’ll receive comfort dog training at the SIT facility, where she’s affectionately referred to as a “loveable land hippo.” After graduation, America will return to Skokie to provide comfort services to the Village and community, living at the Police Department and being cared for by its members.
The Skokie Police Department looks forward to welcoming their patriotic pawtner back to Skokie in a few short months and introducing her to Skokie!
Note: The Police Department funded America’s training through asset forfeiture awarded funds. No taxpayer funds were used.