WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington Police Department has a new member, Chief Joseph Desmond said Wednesday: an 11-week-old Bernedoodle named Zena.
Zena “joins the Health & Recovery Unit to help residents of Wilmington who are struggling with mental health, substance use or other behavioral disorders — or are just having a rough day,” Desmond said. “Zena loves to put a smile on your face, to be petted by new friends and to learn new things. Zena has started basic training and will be completing full therapy dog training over the next year.”
Zena’s handler is Samantha Reif, the department’s in-house social worker. Together they will take classes “to build a respected relationship” and explore the city as part of the dog’s exposure and socialization training, Desmond said.
“There is a lot of research that shows the positive effects of therapy dogs in situations of high stress, trauma and difficulty,” Reif said. “Once Zena is fully trained, we are optimistic that she will be able to provide an additional form of therapeutic alliance with clients I work with. Some research suggests that people are more comfortable when they express through dogs.”
All ages benefit from the presence of animals, Reif said.
“I’m happy to have Zena as a new partner as she will be able to offer physical touch as a sensory component to community members,” she continued. “Once fully trained, Zena will help me answer community service calls together and attend follow-up meetings with community members if they are comfortable with her presence.”
Zena will follow the American Kennel Club’s training schedule to become a certified Canine Good Citizen and then undergo more specialized training to become a formal therapy agency.
“Part of her early training is exposing her to as many environments, situations, people (different ages, different clothes, different physical characteristics, etc.), animals, etc. as possible – early exposure will help ensure she is more comfortable.” and well-rounded into the future,” Reif said. “She was also eager to learn new commands and manners.”
As a Bernedoodle, Zena’s mother is a Bernese Mountain Dog and her father is a Poodle. She was chosen from hundreds of dog breeds due to Bernedoodles’ good nature and ability to learn, as well as hypoallergenic, non-shedding poodle genes.
“Zena learned the basics quickly – sit, lie, touch (aka come) and is currently working on staying. Zena has already brought smiles and joy to her colleagues at the station and looks forward to doing more,” said Desmond.
The department was able to add a therapy dog with a donation from International Family Church, Desmond said.
Christopher Huffaker can be reached at 412-265-8353 or [email protected]