Watch out, Reggie. There’s a new top dog in town.
The Illinois State University Police Department recently met their $4,000 fundraising goal to cover expenses for new community engagement dog and two-year-old black labrador Sage to meet students on campus this fall.
Though she will be handled by officers, Sage is not a drug-sniffing, investigative or attack dog. Instead, ISU PD hopes that Sage will make students feel more comfortable approaching officers on campus and filing police reports at the office.
Sage completed 1,250 hours of training with Supporting Independence through Teamwork (SIT) Service Dogs in southern Illinois and often met up to 1,200 students a day while training at Southern Illinois University.
SIT Service Dogs Program Director Lex Dietz first noticed Sage’s emotional aptitude at a therapy dog event on SIU’s campus. Because service dogs are required to focus their attention on one handler, Dietz knew that Sage was too much of a people-pleaser to continue training as a traditional service dog.
“She really, really feeds off of attention in a way that she seeks attention from more than one person. Sage is a social butterfly,” Dietz said. “She really feeds off of making people happy. We started watching her blossom into a dog who was exceptional at that.”
After ISU PD reached out to SIT Service Dogs, Dietz began searching for the right dog to meet the police department’s needs. Community engagement dogs must respond calmly yet lovingly to varying groups of people. They must have the ability to assess the comfort and energy levels of each person they meet.
Sage’s desire to be affectionate toward all those who approach her and uncanny ability to adapt to the personalities of each visitor put her at the top of the list.
“We had already known Sage was going to be really good at the therapy end of it, and as such, she had not been matched as a service dog,” Dietz said. “It was kind of a perfect confluence of events. We’re really excited. We’ve placed a few facility dogs, but we’ve never placed one in a police department. They seem like a really good match.”