BALTIMORE (WMAR) - The Baltimore Police Department has a new, very cute addition: an 8-month-old therapy dog named Penny.
"She helps to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. She basically makes your day a little bit brighter," Lt. Sarah Connolly said.
Connolly is her owner, and championed the effort to bring her on to help reduce hte stress and anxiety officers feel on a daily basis.
"She helps us reminds us to say it’s okay to not be okay. A lot of times where officers might not speak to someone else, it’s okay to pet a dog. It's okay to get a hug from a dog. She is essentially a walking teddy bear," Connolly said.
Penny went through 72 hours of basic training and passed the Canine Good Citizens test. Now, she'll lend a paw when an officer needs it.
"We can’t take care of the ones we love or our community if we’re not taking care of ourselves," Connolly said.
While Penny is the first for the department, she's not alone in the state. Comfort has been working full-time with the Anne Arundel County Police Department for 1.5 years. His main job is to connect the department with the community.
"It kind of gets people over that fear and that anxiety of dealing with police officers that we see nowadays," Lt. Ryan Frashure said.
Comfort is Frashure's very popular partner.
"I have quickly become not just a Lt. in the police department but Comfort's driver," Frashure said.
The department got him for free from a non-profit called Canine Companions for Independence and he lives with Frashure and comes to work with him every day.
"Just a few weeks ago, we went to a middle school and met with a librarian there that had a group of kids there struggling with reading," Frashure said.
Comfort also provides emotional support for employees too, especially in the last month after the shooting at the Capital Gazette.
"We carry it on our shoulders every day and anything that you can do to relieve that for a little bit and put a smile on people’s faces, it really makes the job fun," Frashure said.
Comfort was born and raised to be a facility dog so he went through more training that Penny did, but their mission is the same: to bridge the gap and break down barriers.
"With community policing, you’re increasing your police force tenfold because you’re involving members of the community. They have a vested interest in the community. They want to help the community," Frashure said.
"That interaction really does foster communication and starts to help relationships and create a bond that you wouldn’t normally have," Connolly said.
Connolly hopes that someday, Penny will become a community liaison as well. Right now, she is focusing on officer wellness. She was part of the BPD's new pop-up wellness days. Employees get free blood pressure checks and information about healthy eating and mental health services. They have held two so far, including the one in the Southeast district Thursday. They plan on bringing the program to each of the other district headquarters too.