Student Life

He’s a Good Dog — and Then Some

Meet Charlie, the UW Police Department’s first therapy K9 officer.

A UWPD police officer holds the department’s therapy dog while chatting with a pedestrian

Gamache deploys Charlie to provide comfort and defuse tense situations. Bryce Richter

The UW Police Department has hired its first therapy K9 officer. Unlike dogs that are trained to sniff out drugs or track criminals, Charlie — a one-year-old rescue — has a job description that entails providing comfort and just being his affectionate, tail-wagging self.

Charlie is deployed on missions such as helping to defuse tense situations and calming stressed-out students during finals. He lives with his handler, Officer Katelyn Gamache ’16, and rides with her on third shift. She assesses situations first and then brings the dog in once she determines whether it’s appropriate. For instance, she may use him to help calm down crime victims or those who are experiencing a mental-health episode.

“When I bring Charlie out, their body completely changes,” she says. Interacting with a therapy animal is known to increase the release of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, and this makes people more willing to share their stories.

The collie/Australian shepherd/indeterminate mix is trained to pick up on changes in voices and muscles and to respond to them with different techniques. “He’s a leaner — he’ll lean and put his body weight on you and forget that I’m there,” says Gamache. “Charlie is so good at reading people, he can tell when they are about to get sad or cry, and that’s when he will lean on them. Dogs can sense things that we don’t sense.”

Gamache says that a lot of people don’t trust police, especially since the killing of George Floyd, and that dogs like Charlie can help to bridge that gap. He also helps enhance the mental health of first responders. In the aftermath of a traumatic incident, for instance, Gamache might bring him in to comfort staff at a hospital or police officers at a debriefing.

Does Charlie like his job? “Absolutely. He’s motivated by praise,” she says, adding that he sits by the car expectantly when she gets ready to go to work. “He feels that the PD is his home.”

A second therapy dog, Dusty, recently joined Charlie as a rookie on the force.

Published in the Winter 2023 issue


  • Karen Frank Barney BS ‘66 MS ‘82 March 15, 2024

    I’m so impressed that my Alma mater is using these 3 special forces dogs to mitigate challenging situations! Keep up the fine work!

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