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Meet Zen: The VPD’s newest employee wellness dog

Aptly-named Zen has been trained to reduce stress in humans, and now works in the VPD’s offices to reduce long term stress in police officers.

Black labrador / golden retriever cross Zen is stroked by Vancouver Police Department officers and staff as he lies on the floor
Photo: Vancouver Police Department video

The Vancouver Police Department is welcoming a new recruit to champion employee wellness among staff.

That’s right - the VPD got their very own therapy dog to help deal with the high levels of stress that come with being a police officer.

Zen, a male Labrador Retriever Golden Retriever cross, has been drafted into the police force to help employees relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in the Employee Wellness Unit along with his handler Cst. Michele McKnight.

Two year-old Zen is a PADS dog (Pacific Assistance Dog Society) who was born in the Lower Mainland in November 2018 before living in the Okanagan for his puppy training. Once he was old enough, he moved to Burnaby for advanced training before starting his placement with the VPD.

According to a 2018 report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canadian police officers are disproportionately affected by mental illness. The report found that 29% of police officers in Canada were in the clinical diagnostic range for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In comparison, the lifetime prevalence rate of PTSD for all Canadians is about 9%.

Sgt Christian Lowe of the Internet Child Exploitation Unit who handles Sadie, another accredited facility dog working with VPD, said: “A lot of research has shown that having dogs around whenever they're dealing with anything that's stressful, alleviates a lot of that stress.

“So just having Sadie in the room, having somebody that or a dog you can just say hello to, spend some time with, go for a walk and just kind of forget what's going on for five minutes.”

Cst. McKnight said: “We have to encourage police officers to take care of their mental health so that the impact of stress isn't long term.”


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