PICTURED: Ventura Police Department therapy dog Asher at VPD headquarters. Photo by Meghan Schade

by Alex Wilson

Everybody loves meeting Asher.

He’s a calm dog with extremely soft fur who loves to be petted. Asher is a 1-year-old Cavadoodle, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and poodle mix, a breed known for having a gentile demeanor. He’s also hypoallergenic and doesn’t shed fur like other dogs.

Asher’s attributes will serve him well as the Ventura Police Department’s first therapy comfort dog.

Police Chief Darin Schindler decided to enhance the department’s wellness program when he took the top job about two years ago. The program already included physical fitness, peer support and a psychologist for critical incidents, but Schindler felt something was missing.

Ventura Police Chief Darin Schindler and VIP Dog Teams founder Nancy Mitchell with Asher at VPD headquarters. Photo by Meghan Schade

Then he learned about VIP Dog Teams, which trains therapy dogs for schools and first responder agencies.

“They had a dog that was about the right age with the kind of training we needed, so it culminated in us getting a comfort dog,” Schindler said about the Camarillo-based nonprofit.

Asher was donated to the department, and the Ventura Police Community Foundation agreed to pay for his food and vet care for as long as he lives.

Department leaders interviewed six employees who work at the police station to see who would have the honor of becoming Asher’s handler, and also keep him as a family dog when Asher is not working. Business Services Officer Roger Wang was given the job. Asher now hangs out in Wang’s office as he handles the department’s budget, payroll and facility management.

Wang was excited when he learned he’d been selected for the collateral assignment. “I was elated. I think this is a really neat program that’s kind of new in law enforcement to have this type of dog at work with us. I just thought it was a really cool idea and so I was totally excited to do that, so when I found out the whole family was elated.”

Asher’s training began about a year ago when he was only a seven-week-old puppy. Wang started training with Asher about two months ago, and recently the dog moved in with Wang and his family and started going to work at the police station.

“His job is just to go and greet people. He’ll let them pet him. One of the favorite tricks right now is he gives high-fives, so he will come up to your desk and he’ll sit and he’ll give everyone high fives,” he said. “It’s fun to have him around.”

Next up for Wang and Asher is crisis testing so Asher can respond to critical incidents, such as fires or homicides, especially when children are impacted by crime or tragedy. Asher will be on call 24/7 after his crisis training is complete.

Nancy Mitchell, VIP Dog Teams founder and head trainer, said therapy comfort dogs can play valuable roles in law enforcement agencies. Even though Asher’s training is not yet complete, he greets officers when they come off shifts.

“So if anyone has had a really bad call or had a bad incident, like maybe they were involved in a shooting, this dog is there to help them deal with that,” she said.

Mitchell said dogs help get more information from children than police officers can alone, because kids are often too intimidated by adults to talk about traumatic experiences. “We’ve seen kids talk to dogs about anything and everything because they don’t judge. They just want attention. They’re just there to be loved and love. And it’s all unconditional. A child may tell you things they may never have said to anybody else, just because the dog is there.” 

VIP Dog Teams: vipdogteams.org

Ventura Police Community Foundation: www.venturapolicefoundation.org

Ventura Police Department Wellness Program: www.cityofventura.ca.gov/2060/Employee-Development