Police K-9s have long been assets to departments in areas of search and rescue, explosive detection, apprehension, and more. Illinois State University Police Department’s Pawfficer Sage, however, specializes in love.

Have you met Pawfficer Sage? Allow us to introduce you. A four-year-old Labrador retriever, Sage spent the first year and a half of her life with SIT Service Dogs in Ava, Illinois. There, she spent approximately 1,200 hours in training to become what many students have called the “goodest girl.” In the spring of 2019, University Police launched a Hatch campaign to bring Sage to campus as ISU’s first-ever therapy dog. Thanks to the support of our community, Sage arrived at ISU and was sworn in as a Pawfficer in August 2019, joining University Police’s Community Engagement Unit. Now two and a half years in, Sage has attended hundreds of events, made 10,000+ friends, and provided comfort in 25 instances of personal crisis.

Sage’s success is no surprise. Recent studies have found that time spent with a therapy animal can lower stress and increase mental clarity for up to six weeks. Amazingly, these benefits begin after only 10 minutes with the animal. While colleges and universities have been taking advantage of this and utilizing therapy animals for several years, municipal police departments are now beginning to get on board as well; some of them thanks to Sage.

While many police departments have at least considered a service animal, Sage was the first instance many had seen of a facility therapy dog. She and others like her have two key benefits for police departments. First, facility dogs don’t have a single handler that they go home with each night; instead, they live at the station and are on call 24/7/365 just like the rest of the department. This means that when a victim or witness is in need, the therapy dog is there and ready to be of service right away. The second benefit is more obvious: people love dogs. An officer with a safe-to-pet service animal is much more approachable to most members of the public. In this way, therapy K-9s facilitate conversation between officers and community members, increasing community policing efforts.

With our Pawfficer Sage clearly demonstrating these benefits, it’s no wonder that departments were ready to hire their own pawfficers. Luckily for them, SIT Service Dogs is up for the challenge.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Sage, Howie, and Romeo, but even more gratifying has been the difference each dog has made for the officers in their departments and the communities they serve. Not only has each dog positively impacted their fellow officers by providing comfort, levity, and moments of peace within the department, but they’ve bridged the departments to their communities by fostering communication and involvement. It has been an incredible experience to be a part of the training, matching, and placement of our Pawfficer dogs.” – Lex Dietz, SIT Service Dogs

As of February 2022, ISUPD has been contacted by several police departments across the country that are considering a furry addition to their teams. Two departments already have their SIT-trained pawfficers on staff:

Pawfficer Howie sits and stays next to a line of Oak Park squad cars
Pawfficer Howie

Oak Park, Illinois
Pawfficer Howie (@pawfficer_howie)
Don’t let that gray scruff fool you – Oak Park’s special recruit isn’t even three yet! Howie joined Oak Park Police Department in June 2021. Like Sage, this good boy is a black Labrador and a former rescue.

Pawfficer Romeo patrols Berwyn on a ride-along
Pawfficer Romeo

Berwyn, Illinois
Pawfficer Romeo (@pawfficer_romeo)
Romeo is the newest pawfficer to graduate from SIT, joining Berwyn Police Department in November 2021. Not one to be left out, Pawfficer Romeo is also a former rescue. And, fun fact: Howie and Romeo were training buddies!

If you’re interested in supporting Pawfficer Sage and her Community Engagement Unit, consider a gift to the Cameron Community Engagement Endowment.