SMPD’s new hire works his tail off


SMPD Mental Health Unit Officer Joyce Bender, Sheldon's handler, rewards him for his hard work with a treat.

Photo by Diana Furman | Lifestyle Reporter

Diana Furman

The San Marcos Police Department has a new addition to its team and unlike most officers, he has big brown eyes, four paws and a furry coat.

The Mental Health Unit of SMPD introduced Sheldon as a therapy dog to assist the community during times of crisis.

Joyce Bender, SMPD mental health unit officer, said she became interested in incorporating a therapy dog into the police department after experiencing the calming effect her five pet dogs have in her life.

“I started doing research and I found that petting them does lower anxiety, stress and blood pressure,” Bender said.

Bender said after conducting research she learned some police departments outside of Texas were already utilizing therapy dogs to assist child crime victims. Bender proposed introducing a therapy dog program to help with similar situations in the San Marcos community.

Given the green flag to proceed with her plan, Bender donated her border collie mix, Sheldon, to SMPD’s Therapy Dog Program. Bender is Sheldon’s handler and they recently attended a training program at Brevard County Sheriff’s Office as well as Paws and Stripes Academy Investigative Therapy Dog Training in Cocoa, Florida.

After a month of work, Sheldon’s soft coat and gentle personality have already made an impact on the San Marcos community. His first act of doggy heroism occurred after the police department received a call from a woman whose boyfriend overdosed.

Bender said when police arrived on the scene the woman was emotional and unable to answer questions about her boyfriend that would assist the medics. Sheldon was introduced to the woman and, after petting him for a while, she was able to open up and answer important questions.

Sheldon also assisted in delivering the news of a death to a 12-year-old boy. He sat with the child and allowed the boy to pet him, cuddle him and cry onto his coat. Bender said the effect Sheldon had on the child was largely helpful and important.

“He actually made the child laugh just once,” Bender said.

Bender and Sheldon often visit the Scheib Center, a local mental health clinic, to help with clients and mental health physicians. He offers a comforting presence as well as shoulder to cry on to those who may be experiencing anxiety.

“The waiting room will be full and of course everyone there is stressed waiting to get an appointment,” Bender said. “And I see their faces light up when I ask if they want to meet Sheldon.”

Roya Williamson, SMPD victim services coordinator, said she has witnessed Sheldon’s magic during a felony trial for double intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault.

Williamson said the room was packed with adults, however Sheldon acted beautifully. She said he went from person to person with a greeting before laying down in the corner as if to say, ‘I’m here if you need me.’

“Our main victim, our surviving victim, said ‘I miss my puppy and I love dogs,’ and just came over and laid down with him,” Williamson said.

Krisha Wofford, SMPD telecommunications officer, said Bender has been really good at making sure the staff at the police department can rely on Sheldon for help as well. Wofford works in the dispatch center and has experienced calls where she has had to seek Sheldon’s reassuring company.

“I went scouring one day just trying to find him,” Wofford said. “And I literally just laid down with him and hugged him and he made me feel better.”

Wofford said she knew Sheldon would help officers working in the community, but did not expect him to also help the police department employees.

Monika Lacey, SMPD victim services coordinator, said she has seen Sheldon’s unconditional love and understanding in action. She said one day she was sitting with a sexual assault victim and Sheldon came into the room. Lacey  opened her arms for a hug like she usually does, but Sheldon surprised her.

“He saw that woman crying and he just went straight to her lap,” Lacey said. “He knew.”

Bender said while Sheldon may be the first dog in a pilot program, she sees the SMPD Therapy Dog Program growing and continuing in the future. She said she believes sometimes we run out of ways to comfort other humans, but dogs offer a certain understanding that humans lack.

“They don’t judge, they’re there just to be with you and soak in everything you’re feeling,” Brendon said. “I don’t understand it, it just happens.”

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