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Guide Dogs alumnus flourishes as police comfort dog posted on 03/01/2020

Tagg, a two-year-old black Labrador, faced his first difficult assignment within weeks of being sworn in as the Gresham Police Department’s premier comfort dog.

Tagg accompanied police officers to Dexter McCarty Middle School in Gresham after a child was struck and killed by an impaired driver while walking to school on Jan. 6. He was there to comfort classmates as school administration announced the tragic death of the student.

“It was amazing to see the calming effect Tagg had on the kids,” Public Information Officer Benjamin Costigan stated in an email.

Tagg is the first comfort dog in Multnomah County and one of a select few in the Pacific Northwest. He was sworn in by the Gresham Police Department on Dec. 17, 2019 as a member of the department’s employee wellness program. In his role with the department, Tagg helps support the health and well-being of officers and community members. He will be present for victim and witness interviews, go to non-active police calls and provide support after stressful situations.

“Dogs especially work well when interviewing children,” Costigan noted about one of Tagg’s many roles interacting with the community.

As part of the employee wellness program, Tagg provides emotional support for officers who face stressful situations on a regular basis. Costigan stated that studies have shown that having a dog around can lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health and have a calming effect on people dealing with stress.

The Gresham police decided to incorporate a comfort dog to their employee wellness program after Police Chief Robin Sells learned of the success of similar programs in police departments on the east coast.

"Officer and employee wellness has become a top priority for us,” Chief Sells said. “The donation of this comfort dog will benefit the entire department and we are so grateful for our donors."

“We were very fortunate to have Tagg donated by Guide Dogs for the Blind, his preventive vet care by Banfield Pet Hospital, emergency vet care by VCA Animal Hospital, food from Nutro and training from Dove Lewis,” Costigan stated. “The Gresham Police Officers Association donated to help with upfront costs. Many members of the public have donated to his care as well. Without their help this would not have been possible.”

Tagg was bred by Guide Dogs for the Blind specifically to be a guide dog. After being born in California, he went to live with puppy raisers in Reno, Nevada prior to coming to Oregon to finish his schooling at the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in Boring.

In order to be considered for his career change Tagg had to meet specific requirements.

“We wanted a dog that is easy to handle and solid in the environment they are working in that still has that confidence and really enjoys meeting people,” said James Dress, Dog Placement Manager for Guide Dogs for the Blind. “We were looking for a dog that’s inviting to people. We really liked Tagg’s temperament for the position.”

In addition to his training as a guide dog for the blind, Tagg has received his American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen training certificate. He is currently in the process of therapy dog training with the goal of becoming a certified therapy dog.

“The main goal was to find a dog who would provide comfort and emotional support for the officers,” Dress said. “Due to his excellent handler and his temperament (Tagg) has very quickly been able to do more and make a difference in the community.”

Tagg will make appearances at events like Coffee with a Cop, City Fest and visits to schools and nursing homes.

Costigan added that Tagg has adapted very well to his new position. Tagg accompanies Costigan home every night and returns to work with him in the morning.

“He works regular hours just like a normal employee. Except he gets to sleep at work sometimes,” Costigan said while laughing. “Everyone has welcomed him with open arms. He is excited to come to work every day and greet everyone. Officers, records staff and administration alike.”

By Ben Simpson/MT




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