Everyday Heroes: Mila the Comfort K-9
With her floppy ears, her busy nose and those brown eyes that pierce your heart as they implore you for another piece of kibble, "Mila" might look like a typical puppy.
But she's so much more than that.
This week's Everyday Hero is training to be the Sherwood Police Department's first "Comfort K9," one of just a few in the whole country.
"For a dog (whose) sole purpose is to lift people's spirits. I think she's gonna be a good candidate for that," says Kelsey Weber, Mila's trainer and the owner of Pawsitively Trained in Sherwood. "She's super fun and loves EVERYBODY and she's always happy, which is perfect."
Comfort dogs are becoming more common in courtrooms, but it's rare to see one dedicated to a police station. In her job, Mila will live at the Sherwood Police Department, ready 24 hours a day to comfort and de-stress police officers and crime victims.
That comfort is something police and first responders need, but rarely ask for.
"They don't have to come out and say, 'Hey, that was a really tough call. I feel like I need something.' You're not gonna get that from first responders. That's not a part of who they are," says Sherwood Police Chief Jeff Groth. "So they have the opportunity to come from that call, and just say, 'I'm gonna go hang out with the dog for a few minutes.'"
Mental health is a major concern among first responders. The stress from the job can build to unbearable levels. Sherwood knows that all too well. In 2003, Sherwood Detective Ben Crosby took his own life. He was a popular police officer who became overwhelmed by work and life.
"Law enforcement has an alarming rate of PTSD in its ranks. It has an alarming rate of suicide. It has an alarming rate of substance abuse. It has an alarming rate of divorce," says Chief Groth. "From a human perspective, we need to take care of our folks. From a business perspective, we need to protect our investment."
And Mila, hopefully, will do just that. And in a way, at just five-and-a-half months old and still concentrating on training, she's already making a positive impact.
"Every time she comes here, we notice a difference," says Groth, "People are already like, 'Oh, Mila's here! Where's Mila?'"
Mila is going through intensive training almost every day with Weber and with several members of Sherwood's police force. The Sherwood Police Foundation is paying for the training, which will last for Mila's whole life.
"I think our foundation is very excited about the possibility of really helping with the mind, body, and soul of our police officers," says Lana Painter, who's part of the Sherwood Police Foundation. The Foundation has an ongoing fundraiser to help cover the substantial cost of Mila's training.
"We spend a lot of money to protect their body. Body armor, ballistic vests, ballistic shields they can get behind, the defensive tools, all those things," says Chief Groth, "We need to equally be thinking about protecting their mind and their soul."
Mila loves food. You can see her focus on it as she sits with Weber. But she also loves people. Michelle Green, the woman who donated Mila to Sherwood Police, thinks that may be because of Mila's early life.
Mila almost didn't make it.
When her mother went into labor, she birthed her first five puppies just fine. Then everything stopped. An emergency ultrasound at the vet discovered one puppy had died in the womb, and was blocking two other puppies from being born. One of those puppies didn't show a heartbeat, and the mother dog needed an emergency C-section. Somehow, the two pups both came out alive. One was Mila.
Mila was the weakest puppy, and she really struggled to eat. While all the other puppies gained weight and got stronger, she lost it and got weaker. At one point, she was less than a pound, while all her littermates were more than two pounds. She couldn't keep her body temperature up, and she had to be carefully tube fed every two hours.
But Mila was a fighter. She was the first of her litter to open her eyes. She was the first to walk, and the first to escape the puppy enclosure. All that human handling likely made a difference. And when she offered any of her seven puppies to the police department, she had Mila in mind.
"I told (Capt. Ty) Hanlon, 'You can pick any one you like, but I think we have the perfect one," says Green.
And Painter hopes other police departments will see how successful Mila's been, and try to adopt a similar program for their own departments.
"I think that this is an exciting new program that we'll be able to see the benefits of. I think we're just scratching the surface now."