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Matt & Rookie Make History

FSD grads serve in sheriff’s department

We’re proud as can be to introduce two recent Freedom Service Dogs graduates, Matt and Cookie, aka Rookie. Matt is a deputy sheriff on the crisis support team at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Stillwater, Minnesota, and professional therapy dog Rookie is working alongside Matt to provide comfort and a communication bridge with members of the community in crisis.

Matt says the idea of adding a therapy dog to the law enforcement agency originated with their employee wellness committee as a way to improve health and reduce stress in the workplace. As they explored the idea and researched benefits, they found several law enforcement agencies nationwide that had successful professional therapy dog programs in which the dogs also assisted the general public. During this same time, Matt’s agency had recently created a position within the sheriff’s office that focused primarily on crisis response, which includes mental health, chemical dependency, and homelessness.

“Once we factored in the additional benefit to the public, the project moved quickly,” says Matt. “We started searching for an assistance dog program that fit our needs and would provide the necessary training and ongoing support we would need. That is when we heard about Freedom Service Dogs through a retired deputy whose daughter was an employee at FSD, and he spoke very highly of their program.”

After emails, phone calls, and a few virtual meetings with FSD staff, Matt traveled to our Colorado training facility for a match meeting. He was introduced to Cookie, a professional therapy dog who was affectionately named by a longtime FSD donor to honor the legacy of another generous FSD donor, Werner Kaplan, whose sweet nickname and term of endearment for his granddaughter was Cookie. Recalls Matt, “The meeting was only a few hours long, but we knew we had found the perfect dog and the perfect facility at FSD!”

Upon returning home, Cookie quickly earned the nickname Rookie, since she and Matt are the first FSD team to serve in law enforcement, and Rookie is the first professional therapy dog to work in this special role in Minnesota. Says Matt, “My role requires what sometimes could be considered stressful conversations with the people I meet. We are often discussing their personal struggles with mental health, substance abuse, or homelessness, and a professional therapy dog can help relieve the stress and open the communication much faster. Rookie has been at our feet to provide a solid, calming presence. Once they meet her, they look forward to our next visit and are visibly excited as she hops out of my car. I engage with a lot of people who sadly don’t have much joy in their life at that moment in time, but they always smile for Rookie.”  

Adds Matt, “When at work, Rookie is so much more than just a friendly dog. She works with me as a team to work through our various encounters each day. We might show off some of her obedience skills or have her rest her head on the person’s leg, which can provide a laugh or a calming effect. Whether it’s meeting a preteen with emotional concerns or a veteran struggling with daily life, Rookie provides a friendly tail wag and head for them to scratch, which helps them focus on the help we are able to provide.”

When off duty, Rookie can be found relaxing with Matt and his family or joining them on camping trips. Says Matt, “We are thankful for the training and support from the team at Freedom Service Dogs and for the amazing work they do.”

Thanks for your own good work, Matt and Rookie, and we look forward to watching you make a powerful and positive impact on your community!

Contact Erin Conley at [email protected]freedomservicedogs.org for all media inquiries.