Mueller authors bill for therapy dogs for law enforcement, first responders, victims

Published 9:00 pm Friday, March 8, 2024

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A new bill, authored by Rep. Patricia Mueller-R, has many hoping it will provide a warm answer to cold and difficult situations in the form of a therapy dog for law enforcement and first responders in the state.

Joined by Woodbury Police Department’s Detective Adam Sack and Otis, Mueller presented HF4215 to the Public Safety Committee earlier this week. The bipartisan supported bill would provide supplemental funding that agencies can call upon in the form of grants that would cover the cost of adding a therapy dog like Otis to their department.

Otis, who laid patiently next to Sack during the hearing, has been serving the Woodbury Police Department since 2023, providing support not only for victims of traumatic situations but for those that respond to those situations.

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He’s also made over 40 visits into the community with Sack since beginning his service with Woodbury, visiting schools and events for people to see and learn more about Otis’ role.

“His job isn’t to fix anything. His job isn’t to judge anything,” Mueller said. “His job is simply to be present and be calm and allow you to pet him, hug him, cry on him.”

Mueller said that GOP leadership came to her about three weeks prior and asked her to author the bill, and then, just prior to presenting the bill in committee, the two Burnsville Police officers and firefighter were killed responding to an incident in February.

“It just felt like this bill was at the right place at the right time,” Mueller said. “Officers feel increased pressure, rhetoric around their job.”

“We just know our first responders are struggling and this is one way we can address mental health, but also the (dogs) can provide mental health service,” she added.

The money would be set aside and be administered by the Department of Public Safety, which would grant funds to non-profit agencies to train the dogs that go to police or first responders.

Additionally, individual departments can also apply for grant money directly and be trained by an officer already on the force.

“Preferential treatment would be given to highly stressful situation responses and those that have gone to incidents and are suffering from PTSD trauma,” Mueller said.

Mueller said she received letters of support from several agencies prior to presentation of the bill in committee, as well as receiving strong support from both sides of the aisle.

Committee Chair of the Public Safety and Finance Committee in the House, Kelly Moller-D, was among those that signed on in support of the bill.

“The response has been really amazing,” Mueller said. “I learned as I was researching this that so many agencies asked Woodbury, ‘how did you do this?’ We know the meat is there, we know they have people who are willing to train the dog.”

A motion was made to move the bill forward for possible inclusion into a future public safety bill. It will also have to go through both the House and the Senate.

“I hope this grant is prioritized because it goes to our first responders,” Mueller said.