Just after one week arriving at his new home at the Philomath Police Department, Percy spent some quality time with a local teenager who had been a crime victim.
"She sat down on the floor and spent probably a half-hour with Percy," Philomath Chief of Police Ken Rueben said. "It was her first introduction to the police department and we talked about her case, but we had this dog here and it was just very comforting. Kids love dogs and just having the dog here, it kind of takes your mind off your troubles because he's so friendly."
Yes, the Philomath Police finally got their station therapy dog. Percy, a full-blooded, American Kennel Club-registered chocolate lab, arrived at his new home Nov. 15.
"Our plan is he's basically going to be an ambassador for our office," Rueben said. "He's going to spend a lot of time in schools with kids ... but his main focus is to help people in duress, when people come to the office and they are distraught or reporting (a crime)."
The Philomath Police Foundation, which was recently established and has brought in more than $6,000 through community donations, paid $600 for the canine. Dogs like Percy usually bring in a price of around $2,000, but Rueben said the breeder, Midnight Sky Farm's Susie Morrill, donated the difference.
"There's zero city money going into this dog — it's all foundation and private donation funded 100 percent," Rueben pointed out. "We briefed the foundation board on the dog and they purchased him."
Rueben cited a few reasons for wanting a station dog but besides serving in a comfort role, he could also be an on-the-job companion for officers.
"Having a dog around is a huge stress reliever and all of our guys love dogs," Rueben said. "It was a no-brainer; the guys wanted to do this probably for two years when we first started talking about it."
Finding a dog with a known background was a must during the search.
"People wanted to give us a dog from their family and those kinds of things, but because of liability issues and the dog is going to be around children, we have to have a known background of where the dog came from and behavior and everything," Rueben said.
As a result, Rueben had difficulty finding one that the department could accept.
"We couldn't get one at the pound and we couldn't get one from a family, so we were looking for dogs that are in programs, like the dogs for the blind, dogs for the deaf, those kinds of programs," Rueben said. "They reject dogs sometimes and even though they're well-trained, they can't do some tasks that they're supposed to do but they're really great dogs."
The Philomath Express published a story Sept. 13 about the police department's desire to add a station therapy dog to its staff. Ann Dickerson, a Corvallis therapy dog trainer and handler, soon offered her help.
"She read your article and came in and said, 'I'd love to be your advocate and try to find a dog for you. I have a lot of connections with a lot of breeders and facilities,'" Rueben said. "So about three months ago, she started doing that. She went out and met with breeders and described what we wanted in a dog."
Rueben said the biggest sticking point with the whole effort was most organizations or breeders will place a dog somewhere only if it goes to a family with a traditional home.
"We want the dog to live full-time in the police department and be there 24-7 because we get victims and children who come in from really bad circumstances or we're removing children from an abused home situation," Rueben said. "We want the therapy dog to be there when that happens. We want him to be our pet, too. That was the thing most of these groups were not comfortable with, that this dog would not have a formal family and home."
But earlier this month, Rueben got a call from Dickerson who relayed that she had located a breeder in Eugene. That's how Morrill entered the picture.
"They have worked with Ann and different groups and sold and given dogs to different organizations," Rueben said about Midnight Sky Farm. "They had a dog available so I went down that weekend (Nov. 11) and visited, met the dog and was thrilled because he's got a great disposition, super friendly, well-behaved dog and we know the background."
Percy, who is 2 years old, had even participated in dog shows, winning a few awards at regional competitions.
Police officers donated out of their own pockets for food, bedding and toys. They will continue to pay for his food in the future.
"He has a kennel that he sleeps in at night, but he's up when the officers are in the office," Rueben said. "He's out and about with the officers."
Percy doesn't go on calls with officers, but does get an occasional ride in the chief's truck.
A few organizations also made major contributions to the effort to bring in Percy. Rueben said Philomath received a big donation from the Benton County Sheriff's Office Foundation, which raised money for such programs at this year's chili cookoff. Thompson Timber donated thousands of dollars in bark chips for Percy's outdoor living area. His kennel is located in a side yard off the police department building.
In addition, Ark Animal Hospital's Jilinda Lewis-Simpson donated 100 percent veterinary services for Percy's lifelong care.
Rueben stressed that the public should not be confused about Percy's functions.
"He's not a police dog, he's not a K-9 (officer)," Rueben said. "He's not going to do any policing of drugs or attacking or anything like that. He's strictly a therapy and comfort animal."
The police department does have hopes of bringing in a K-9 officer through the establishment of the foundation. Rueben said there are no plans to purchase an attack dog.
Donations to the Philomath Police Foundation are tax-deductible. Rueben said a website and Facebook page will be going up soon for those who might be interested.