While police dogs are often seen in detecting drugs and explosives, one by the name of Bragg in Herndon is known for another area: comforting people.
Bragg assists officers, dispatchers and department staff following stressful situations and in counseling sessions, interviews and roll calls as a facility dog. He can sense increases in one’s heart rate and can get help when needed, part of a repertoire of 50-plus commands.
Recently, the town applauded two lieutenants and the canine, who were part of a group of town workers who received Outstanding Performance Awards. Town manager Bill Ashton presented the awards on Dec. 7 to thank them for going above and beyond in their service.
“In this challenging year, the creativity and innovation demonstrated by these employees made our workplace safer, our employees healthier and our team spirit stronger,” Ashton said in a statement. “Often, leaders emerge in times of trial. Each employee recognized by these awards exemplifies leadership in the truest, best sense of the word.”
Lts. Jay Carson and Mark Dale, who joined the department last year, developed a comprehensive wellness program for the police department to help officers cope with stressful incidents and contribute to positive mental health. The town noted that they created the program in eight months and it includes a contracted police psychologist, annual wellness checks, peer support teams, meditation training, a dedicated wellness/meditation room, the addition of Bragg and more.
The department announced the addition of Bragg in April after the Labrador Retriever spent two years receiving specialized training from the nonprofit Mutts With A Mission. Nowadays, he can be seen in areas of the Herndon Police Department and community events, where he serves as a four-legged ambassador.
“He is a big calming presence,” police spokesperson Lisa Herndon told Reston Now, noting the department also brings him out to farmers’ markets, community events involving kids and Target.
His first deployment was responding to the police station in June following a tragedy involving the murder of a mother and her two young children at their Herndon apartment at the hands of a romantic partner who committed suicide, according to police.
Bragg is now an additional element who can sit in on meetings to provide another layer of support.
In the community, he’s used to help put children at ease and show that police are there for them, the department said. The department’s spokesperson also noted that police in the town want to be seen as welcoming to immigrants and Herndon police don’t check immigration status.
Capt. Steven Pihonak, Bragg’s handler, brings him to work each day, and Bragg lives with the lieutenant and his family.
“Bragg really has the best of both worlds; he gets to help the men and women of the Herndon Police Department by day and go home with me and be a carefree dog at night,” Pihonak previously said in a statement.
Police Chief Maggie DeBoard said Bragg is an important part of the health and wellness program to help ensure officers and staff have the resources to remain emotionally well and focus on serving the community