Florida Highway Patrol Lieutenant Tara Crescenzi is determined to help improve her fellow officers’ access to mental health support, and she is turning to some trusted friends to help.
Wanting to capitalize on people’s positive interaction with animals, the recent Center for Homeland Defense and Security Emergence Program graduate made implementing the Florida Highway Patrol’s first Therapy Dog Program her Emergence change initiative.
Entitled “Paws for the Law: Therapy Dogs for the Florida Highway Patrol,” Crescenzi’s Emergence change initiative is aimed at providing FHP staff with a “non-judgmental source of support and comfort” by adding a “highly trained fluffy member to our Peer Support Team,” the FHP Troop D Public Affairs Officer said.
Crescenzi (Emergence cohort 2202) said her change initiative’s core goal is to help law enforcement officers at risk for suicide and other negative mental health outcomes. Noting the stigma around seeking mental health help, Lieutenant Crescenzi seeks to improve the resources available to officers by implementing a pilot therapy dog program.
“This program’s end goal is to bridge the gap and help break barriers associated with asking for help,” she said. “We aim to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health services, improve the overall well-being of our members, and ultimately enhance our service to the public.”
“Interaction with a therapy dog will assist individuals in effectively coping with the challenges, strains, and traumas associated with their demanding careers.”– Tara Crescenzi
In preparation for her Emergence change initiative, Crescenzi said her own therapy dog, Dean, underwent “rigorous training” and earned several nationally recognized certifications, including the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Law Enforcement Investigative Therapy Dog Course and Multi-Discipline Therapy K-9 Team Certification, as well as the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test.
Crescenzi said Dean’s “comprehensive training equips him to provide invaluable support to our Troopers and staff during critical moments.”
She said she has successfully pitched her Emergence change initiative and provided presentations to her Troop Commander and three Captains, ultimately earning their support for a pilot program that will feature visits by Dean to Troop D Headquarters as needed.
The next step, according to Crescenzi, is to provide a presentation to the FHP Executive Staff and request necessary resources to ensure the pilot program is successful. Meanwhile, she said she is working on composing a proposed policy for the Therapy Dog Program and seeking grants.
Once Dean’s effectiveness is demonstrated, Crescenzi said she plans to show the Executive Staff the results and encourage other Troopers to join the FHP Peer Support Team and attend the Paws and Stripes College for training.
“The FHP Therapy Dog Program could significantly enhance our organization’s well-being and resilience,” she said. “Interaction with a therapy dog will assist individuals in effectively coping with the challenges, strains, and traumas associated with their demanding careers, ultimately leading to improved performance and increased job satisfaction.
“I believe this initiative is vital to our organization and am excited to see it gain recognition.”
The ultimate goal, she said, is to have a Therapy Dog in every Troop across Florida.
Dean’s inaugural event as a therapy dog was set for Saturday, July 1, with Rosie’s Adventures, a non-profit organization assisting children battling cancer. The organization was founded by Nikki Ramirez, the wife of FHP Sgt. Jose Ramirez, in honor of their daughter Rosie who tragically died from cancer.
Crescenzi said the event was an “opportunity for Dean to offer comfort to these families during their challenging times and demonstrate the potential positive impact of the proposed Therapy Dog Program.”
Crescenzi credited the CHDS Emergence Program with providing invaluable assistance with creating and launching her change initiative, saying she was “so grateful for all that I learned,” and adding that the “lessons and tools that were provided have truly helped me make this dream a reality.”