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Meet Dusk, a therapy dog intended to help Gainesville Police and the community
therapy dog
The Gainesville Police Department has a new therapy dog named Dusk, a six month old mixed breed female. - photo by By Scott Rogers

Contrary to her name, Dusk, a 6-month-old lab mix, tends to brighten any room she enters. 

Dusk will soon go to work as a therapy dog for the Gainesville Police Department, working to  “meet the needs of the officers as well as the community,” Lt. Kevin Holbrook said.

The Gainesville City Council approved a resolution to receive the therapy dog, which will help with the department’s peer support group and beyond.

“Many times, it’s easier for the officers to relate with the dog and have that relationship with the dog,” Holbrook said.

Dusk’s training to be a certified therapy dog will allow her to recognize when people are experiencing stress and trauma, Holbrook said.

“There’s that stigma within law enforcement that you have those problems and issues and you just kind of push it to the back of your mind and keep moving forward,” Holbrook said. “This is one of the programs to help those officers that are on the front lines to have this support system through the peer support training as well as the therapy dog to make it through some of those types of events.”

Scot Rucker of Rucker Dog Training has assisted with more than 30 therapy dogs that now work in schools, jails, senior centers, therapists’ offices and more.

Rucker is a partner with the Forsyth County Pups with Purpose program, where dogs are taken out of the shelter and trained by inmates.

The introduction of therapy dogs into schools has changed the school professionals’ careers, Rucker said, as kids are more likely to interact with them if there is a dog they can pet.

“Same thing with wearing a badge,” he said. “A lot of my deputies … that have these therapy dogs that they’re going out into the community with, it’s changed their careers, too. Because most kids aren’t going to just go up to a cop a lot of times, too. I think it makes them a lot more approachable.”

Scot Rucker
Rucker Dog Training owner Scot Rucker and Jessica Wiedner visit the Gainesville Police Department to visit with a dog they trained for the department as a therapy dog. Dusk is a 6-month-old mixed breed female. - photo by By Scott Rogers

Dusk now is in the care of Cpl. Jessica Van. Van pointed to a similar program with Northeast Georgia Health System with a therapy dog named Gili.

“The hope is to be able to share more love all the way around,” Van said of Dusk’s mission with the department.

Dusk isn’t an official therapy dog quite yet. Van said Dusk is still in training and has to pass a certification later this summer.

But Dusk’s reach will extend beyond the police headquarters on Queen City Parkway. Van said the department wants to use Dusk for community events, bringing her to schools, day care centers, nursing homes and more.

As Holbrook puts it, Dusk is the “No. 1 community relations officer now.”

“Working with our mental health clinician program, many times it’s easier to bring a dog in,” the lieutenant said. “… Everybody loves a dog.”

When working with crime victims in the future, particularly children, bringing a dog in can console them and alleviate the tension of the situation, Holbrook said.

Rucker, who has been in dog training for 13 years, owns pet stores in Cumming and started holding training classes as a side hustle.

Dusk went through her initial training with Jessica Wiedner and her 11-year-old daughter Addison.

“At 11 years old, it’s hard, I think, to understand what responsibility is,” Wiedner said. “I think that they think as a preteen that they understand it.“

Wiedner said her daughter had to come to terms with taking care of the dog, knowing that it eventually would be given away.

“Although she was sad, I think that she also realizes the impact she has on the community, and that’s a lot for someone at 11 to be able to be involved with something like that,” Wiedner said.

Addison received a certificate of appreciation signed by Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish in recognition of her fostering and training Dusk.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen my kid that happy (and) feel that accomplished,” Wiedner said.

 This article was originally posted by the Gainesville Times, a sister publication to Forsyth County News. 

Jessica Wiedner
Jessica Wiedner handles Dusk Wednesday May 4, 2022, at the Gainesville Police Department offices. The dog is the department's new therapy dog. - photo by By Scott Rogers