INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — The Independence Police Department is introducing a brand new recruit. But this one has four legs, fur and a tail.
Josie is a two-year-old golden retriever/border collie mix and, in just a few short days, is already building a strong bond with officers at the agency.
“After stressful calls, it’ll be nice to hang out with her. Even on days we don’t have stressful calls, it’s kind of nice to have somebody you just love on,” Officer Desiree Abraham said.
Josie is a certified therapy animal who will serve as IPD’s first ever therapy dog, donated by the nonprofit K9s For Freedom & Independence of Texas.
“We’ve got to try and pay it forward. We’ve got to help each other out because we are, in this case, one big blue family,” said Janeen Baggett, founder of K9s for Freedom & Independence.
Josie will work in tandem with the department’s peer support program to help improve mental health and well-being of department employees. It’s a critical mission for those in a high-stress job.
“We want to be able to get officers back into position, be productive law enforcement officers, and also get to where they can be dads and moms and really get their lives back in order before they get to the point where they are boiling over with stress,” said Virgil Garner, a retired Independence Police detective and current police chaplain and peer support member.
Josie’s human partner, Sgt. Shull, is also the supervisor of 10 school resource officers, so she’ll also be sharing a lot of love with local students.
And in high stress environments, Josie can be brought in to help calm nerves during police interviews and investigations.
“You’ve got a higher percentage of getting better and more detailed information with a dog in the room because it distracts the person from actually thinking about, ‘I’m talking to a detective,'” Baggett said.
The gift of Josie is part one of two.
Soon, K9s for Freedom & Independence will also pair former IPD Officer Tom Wagstaff with a full-time service dog. Wagstaff is disabled after being shot in the line of duty nearly two years ago.
He knows having his dog will be life-changing.
“I’m very excited. The fact it will be a mobility dog, help me walk, get around — I’ve been really looking forward to,” Wagstaff said.
Wagstaff will have a furry friend joining his family this summer. He said the unrelenting and overwhelming support of his police family means the world.
“If it wasn’t for them, it would be a long road. But everyone here, has been like a family to me. They continue to support me no matter what, and I really appreciate them,” Wagstaff said.
Josie was donated to the Independence Police Department at no cost to the city.
The future costs of food, supplies and veterinary care will be provided by nonprofit funds through the Truman Heartland Community Foundation. Members of the community are welcome to donate, by specifying the Independence Police Department peer support program.