12305403078?profile=RESIZE_710xOcean Ridge Police Officer Debra Boyle watches Dash, a trained police therapy dog, interact with residents Martha Stanfield and Marion Moon. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Related story: Paws Up for Pets: Not all cats are aloof; in fact, some make purrfect therapy animals

By Larry Barszewski

Ocean Ridge police now have a dog on the force — one that is more likely to jump onto your lap and nuzzle up to you than take down a criminal suspect.

“We’ve gone from K-9 dogs that sniff out drugs and bombs and bite people, to ones that give hugs,” Police Chief Scott McClure says.

Meet Dash, police therapy dog, sidekick to community policing Officer Debra Boyle.

Officer Deb had no doubt her 3-year-old Dash could do the job, as he has helped her through tough times of her own since she got him as a puppy.

“He brought comfort to me and brought my anxiety down,” she says — exactly the on-the-job talent Dash displays whether he’s visiting a town resident in the hospital, tagging along on a wellness check to the home of a sick or elderly resident, or just hanging his head out the open window of Officer Deb’s patrol vehicle, greeting passersby on Old Ocean Boulevard.

“He’s just got such a gentle soul. He’s great with the elderly. He’s great with everybody,” Officer Deb says.

Dash graduated at the end of October from the Paws & Stripes College of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, part of its second graduating class of police therapy dogs.

He gives new meaning to “backing the blue.” He’s a purebred blueblood — a Cavalier King Charles spaniel — and he works for blueberries.

“He loves blueberries,” says Officer Deb. With so many people feeding him treats throughout the day, the blueberries are a healthy alternative and help Dash — all 20 pounds of him — stay fit and trim.

At the Portofino condominiums, Dash makes regular visits to the home of Marion Moon and Martha Stanfield.

“Can he have a T-R-E-A-T?” Stanfield asks as Dash arrives with Officer Deb. “I won’t say it out loud because I know that’s what he wants.”

Quickly, Dash is in the lap of Moon, who turned 96 in November, and he’ll stay there for most of the visit as Moon lavishes him with affection.

“I just love him. He’s so sweet,” says Moon, who gets by using a walker. Her husband died in 2017, as did Josephine, the precious poodle the couple had for 16 years. “He just makes me so happy,” she says of Dash.

Though Dash primarily visits Moon, he makes time for Stanfield, too.

I think he’s got the softest fur of any animal,” Stanfield says. “It’s just so soft, like silk.”

It’s not so much the breed as the dog itself that matters most when determining which are cut out for therapy dog work, Officer Deb says.

She also has a 6-year-old shepherd mix named Gunner and a 1-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Tucker.

“All three have different personalities,” she says. “This one, I call him the king of the house.”

Unlike Tucker and Gunner, who are content to play with their toys, Dash will jump right into Officer Deb’s lap at home.

“He’s a people person,” Officer Deb says. And you know what she means.

“He loves to come to work,” she says. “He knows when I put the uniform on” and he’s ready to go himself.

Dash will have other emotional support duties as needed. Police therapy dogs can work with victims of crimes, making them feel more comfortable talking about what they experienced. They can be in the courtroom at the foot of a victim testifying on the stand, helping that person through what can be a traumatic experience.

“Dash is there for a number of reasons: the mentally ill, victims of violence, kids, the sick, our elderly population,” McClure says.

Teaming up with Dash also helps Officer Deb break down barriers or discomfort people may have with police.

“It initiates conversations,” she says. “It just bridges the gap between law enforcement and the public.”

Dash’s eating habits could be a good influence on kids in town.

“I give him frozen vegetables with his dinner. He loves peas and carrots and green beans. He loves fruit,” Officer Deb says.

Dash isn’t the first police therapy dog in the area. Boynton Beach added a therapy dog in 2016 and now has Elliott, who graduated from the PBSO program in 2022. PBSO has 10 therapy dogs on its force, and Delray Beach had two therapy dogs graduate the course along with Dash.

Officer Deb says the goodwill that therapy dogs deliver can’t be measured.

“If I can leave somebody with a smile on their face, that’s made my job worth it,” she says.

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