'You can't help but love him': Laid-back comfort dog newest member of Libertyville Police Department
Canine Elwood hasn't been officially sworn in, but the newest member of the Libertyville Police Department goes to roll calls and already has won the hearts of officers and village employees alike.
"Everybody in the village wants to adopt him," said Chief Ed Roncone. "He's such a laid-back dog, you can't help but love him."
That's the point. Elwood, a year-old retriever mix, was brought into the fold to provide comfort and emotional support to victims during interviews as needed and to help officers decompress after a tough call.
Aside from those duties, Elwood also will be a goodwill ambassador. After his training is complete, he'll be out and about with handler Sara Reed at schools and other sites, as well as various community events, such as Libertyville Days.
Elwood is an example of "a new generation of police dogs," Reed said.
"I think it's a program that will gain a lot of traction because it not only benefits officer wellness in the department, it will help cultivate positive relationships in the community," she added.
Unlike a typical "police dog," Elwood isn't being trained to sniff out drugs or guns. Nor will he be used to search for bad guys. Libertyville police will rely on outside agencies for that type of assistance, as Elwood is meant to play a different role.
"More public facing versus bad guy facing," explained Lisa Wernli, co-founder of Canines 4 Comfort, which donated and is training Elwood. "They bring a lot of well-being to the community."
Since it was founded November 2017, the all-volunteer nonprofit has trained and placed 25 dogs to support mental health and well-being. The mission in recent years has expanded from service dogs dedicated to one person, according to Wernli.
"We realized we had a deeper reach if we have a facility dog" available, she said. About eight have been placed, including with the Bartlett Police Department.
"Our dogs are here for one reason and one reason only, and that's just to make everything better," she said at the fifth anniversary celebration at Lindy's Landing in Wauconda.
Wernli had shown dogs, and the idea for Canines 4 Comfort came together as she was on the verge of retiring after decades in a corporate job. The organization doesn't have a permanent facility, and everyone works from home, meeting once or twice a week in donated space for training sessions.
As support services supervisor, Reed is in charge of the records department and coordinates police involvement in community events throughout the year. The 11-year veteran has had the idea for a while.
"I've wanted a (comfort) dog here for three years now -- it came up often," she said. "I think it was all about the timing."
Reed initially contacted police departments with comfort dogs and gathered information focused on acquisition, costs and training. Some agencies had gone through a group in Florida and others through breeders. There also were a few foundations, but most had a waitlist of up to three years, Reed said.
This past November, she met an old friend for dinner who by chance had a dog donated by Canines 4 Comfort. That friend put Reed in touch with Wernli.
Wernli said she had a perfect fit for Libertyville and was excited about what would be the organization's first partnership with a police department in Lake County, Reed explained.
Within days, Reed and Roncone attended a Canines 4 Comfort training session. There was an instant connection.
"Elwood saw Sara and Sara saw Elwood, and that was it," Roncone said. "However, other questions and logistics besides having a good match between dog and handler had to be addressed.
"We couldn't go into this without a clear direction. How is it going to work? He's not just a police department individual; he's a member of the village staff."
Elwood comes to work with Reed and goes home with her on nights and weekends. He's readying for his final test April 30, a 10-step American Kennel Club certification. His duties upon graduation are being defined but one aspect will involve school visits.
"It's kind of up to the schools to pick the path. We want it to be a two-way street," Roncone said.