New ACSO deputy offers comfort and kisses

Published 11:56 pm Sunday, July 7, 2024

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NATCHEZ — The Adams County Sheriff’s Office has a new deputy, and he’s only 7 years old and will lick your face if you let him.

The new deputy’s name is Benjie. He’s a Golden Doodle and is thought to be the first therapy dog to be included in a K-9 unit in Mississippi.

His handler is ACSO Deputy Michelle Martin, who has had Benjie since he was 10 weeks old.

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The sheriff’s office will use Benjie in various ways, including comforting young and old victims of crimes and making them feel at ease.

“He looks like a big, ol’ Teddy bear,” Martin said. “He loves to roll around on the floor and play. The sheriff’s office has adopted him now, and he is part of the K-9 group.”

Benjie goes to work with Martin for each of her 12-hour shifts. “He’s right there with me. I will get him out during the shift, exercise him, and go over his commands. I’ve worked with him since he was a baby.”

Benjie completed his training at Louisiana Capital City Obedience Training.

“Our goal with him is to be able to work with victims. It’s proven that he can come in and bring those people comfort and restore trust during times of high stress and trauma,” she said.

Martin is crisis intervention certified and expects Benjie to assist her on various calls.

“If someone is having a bad day or a psych episode, he can love on them and help calm them. He also breaks that barrier so they feel more comfortable talking when he is there. The same thing happens with victims of crime. He will help build a rapport with them by loving on them and giving them kisses and helping them relax.”

Benjie will be beneficial with child victims.

“He can shake and give them five. Interaction with him will bring stress levels down,” she said.

Benjie will also frequently visit Adams County schools, churches, vacation Bible schools, neighborhood watch meetings, and nursing homes.

“Once children play with him and become comfortable, we are more likely to get them to listen to the information we need to provide to them, whether that is about drugs or cyber crimes or any other issues,” she said.

Martin has 20 years of experience as a law enforcement officer. She came to the sheriff’s office after Sheriff Travis Patten approached her about working with Benjie as a therapy dog on his team.

“Right now across the nation, law enforcement agencies are implementing wellness programs to help officers and victims,” Patten said. “The Adams County Sheriff’s Office is one of those agencies. We have sent officers off to be trained in peer support. We currently pay any medical bills concerning counseling. We have implemented a wellness app and are taking it one step further with the therapy dog, which will help victims and officers during bereavement, grief, and stress.”

He said national law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, are pushing hard for ways to support victims and officers because of results they have seen in their agencies.

“We like to be on the forefront, not behind the curve. Hiring Michelle Martin and her therapy dog is part of that support effort. We are excited about the potential.

“We look forward to Benjie showing much love to victims, officers, and the public. I think both are a great addition to the sheriff’s office,” the sheriff said.

“Without going into details, I had some trauma. I met a lady who is now a friend of mine who had a therapy dog. She knows Benjie is like my heart. She told me I should train him as a therapy dog. I decided I wanted others to be able to love him as much as I do,” she said.

“Benjie lived a very spoiled life for five years. He stayed at home while I worked. I was initially torn, wondering how he would take coming to work with me every shift. However, he thrives when he is with people. It is bred into them to work and have a purpose other than lying around the house and sleeping. My friend was totally, completely, 100 percent correct. He loves meeting people. He loves getting out and seeing people. Everybody loves loving on him and petting him, and he loves it!”

One thing Martin wants to make clear is that Benjie will not be working to capture any criminals.

“He is not going to go chasing anybody!” she said.