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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Lynn Miracle pets Bonnie, the new Catoosa County Sheriff office therapy dog, inside the Catoosa County Sheriff's office on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in Ringgold, Georgia.

Pet owners know that after a long day of work, their furry friends are waiting to help relieve their stress the moment they get home. Catoosa County Sheriff's Office employees no longer have to wait until after they leave the office to feel the anxiety-melting sensation of petting a dog with the recent arrival of Bonnie, the office's new therapy K-9.

The 1-year-old golden retriever mix is a full-time resident of the sheriff's office, where all the employees share the responsibility of her care, Sheriff Gary Sisk said.

Just reaching out to ruffle the hair between Bonnie's ears or chucking a toy across the room and waiting for her to find it can change a person's state of mind for the better, he said.

"It just kind of helps de-stress you," Sisk said. "Most people don't even realize it's happening, but you can see as people start to interact with animals or dogs how sometimes they get into a different mood."

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Bonnie the therapy dog

Bonnie isn't a service dog, and she doesn't go out into the field with officers or perform tasks for law enforcement such as searches. Her job is simply to interact with people and lift their spirits.

Sisk said Bonnie may be used by investigators to help children feel more comfortable when they are brought into the sheriff's office to answer questions, but her main role is to relieve employee stress and anxiety.

"I heard one today say, 'I took a bad phone call; I need a minute with Bonnie,' and just goes over and rubs her ears a little while," he said. "It just takes you down a notch or two before you've got to go and deal with the next situation."

New toys continue to appear, and Sisk keeps getting requests from employees wanting to add dog beds to their offices as employees become more attached to their new co-worker.

Considering the emotionally stressful and often traumatic situations law enforcement officers and other sheriff's office employees face on a daily basis, it's not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to have therapy K-9s, he said.

Some of Sisk's employees realized this at a gathering of other agencies, and one employee had a connection with Damon McCook, owner of Ringgold, Georgia, dog training company Good Citizen K-9. They started discussing the possibility of getting a therapy K-9 for the sheriff's office, and McCook, who fosters dogs for McKamey Animal Center, recognized Bonnie's potential as a therapy dog and partnered with the sheriff's office to provide training.

"She has this really nonchalant, laid-back demeanor," McCook said of Bonnie, a former stray picked up in Chattanooga who has the ideal personality of a therapy dog despite her young age.

Many sheriff's office employees worked with Bonnie during her training, and she's more than earned her keep in cuddles during her first two weeks at work.

"Law enforcement officers risk their lives every day and night," McCook said. "They deal with a lot of trauma and a lot of crazy situations. It's nice that they can get back to the office and kind of let go and have a companion there that they can love on."

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com.

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