UT Police Department debuts new therapy dog for dispatchers, staff and students

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Noelle Newton

After an influx of calls related to the May 2017 on-campus stabbing came in, UT Police Department dispatchers found it difficult to cope with the stress of their jobs. Because of this, UTPD dispatch supervisor Kim Schultz decided to bring her 14-year-old Dachshund, Bella, into the dispatch center.

After Bella’s death, Schultz and her husband adopted Widget, a Dachshund-Beagle mix, to serve as a therapy dog for UTPD dispatchers. Widget has taken obedience classes at the Austin Dog Alliance and was awarded the Canine Good Citizen certification by the American Kennel Club. Once certified, Widget was sponsored by Canines for Christ, an animal-assisted therapy ministry.

“He comes to work everyday with me,” Schultz said. “Any time we have a major event, he will visit with that specific unit or shift. For example, when the Fayette County Deputy Calvin Lehmann was injured in the line of duty, we were called up to the Dell Seton Medical Center to come visit with the family.”

In August, UTPD Chief David Carter approved Widget as an official member of UTPD’s K-9 unit.

“When we had a tragedy, such as Haruka (Weiser)’s and Harrison (Brown)’s murders, you can imagine the calls and stress that dispatchers had to undergo,” Carter said. “Having Widget here helps take care of the mental well-being of all of the officers.”

Though UTPD officers can cope with stress through the use of 24/7 counseling from UT or access to chaplains, Schultz says Widget will serve as an immediate, accessible comfort. 

“I’ve been a dispatcher for 21 years, and I’ve been there for several major incidents on campus,” Schultz said. “Those incidents don’t ever get any easier, and … you don’t always have time to see a counselor to process what happened. Widget isn’t supposed to take the place of therapy, but he’s there to allow people to focus on something other than the grave nature of our jobs in that moment.” 

Outside of dispatch, Widget has visited the staff at the Texas Performing Arts Center during Broadway season and law enforcement in the Emergency Operations Center during football game planning. Schultz said the goal is to allow students and other dispatch centers in the region to meet him.

“The Austin Dog Alliance and Canines for Christ sometimes come during finals week to deploy their dogs for their students, and we’d love to be a part of that as soon as we go through another round of therapy training,” Schultz said. “We’re going to try to make him available to whoever and whenever anyone needs him.”

Public health junior Zachary Markizer said Widget will help UTPD seem friendlier and more approachable to students. 

“I’ve met Widget before and know how beneficial he can be to the department when he’s visiting their office,” Markizer said in an email. “Therapy dogs can be more of a help for students than peers or professional counselors because dogs have a nature of not offering judgement (while showing) support and care.”