He doesn't wear stars and bars, and he's no "mad dog," but this Mattis commands an audience wherever he goes.

Named in honor of U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Mattis K. Nine is a 1-year-old English cream golden retriever and the first of two therapy dogs deployed by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.

Mattis often is out and about with his handler, sheriff's deputy Darrah Metz, a 7-year veteran assigned to the sheriff's office's community-relations department; he began training as a therapy dog in April, but he makes public-relations appearances on a regular basis.

Hilliard residents might even see him off-duty: Like most police dogs, Mattis lives with Metz, who resides in Hilliard.

"He's with me 24-7," Metz said.

Wherever he goes, Mattis represents a new chapter for the sheriff's office.

"I could have 12 stars on my uniform, but whenever they enter a room everyone forgets I'm there," said Sheriff Dallas Baldwin, who credits Metz with founding the agency's therapy-dog program.

Metz said she realized how deeply a dog can influence humans after owning her first dog, Kobe.

Metz said she was in graduate school at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, when she found Kobe, who had been beaten and left in a ditch.

"They told me that he wouldn't make it, but I had Kobe for 12 years," Metz said. "He changed my life and was a best friend and soul mate. I learned what a positive influence dogs can be."

It was that influence Metz had in mind when she took her idea for a police therapy dog to commanders at the sheriff's office.

Metz said she doesn't know of many other police departments with therapy dogs, and many agencies have been calling Franklin County about Mattis and Stark, a rescue who just completed training and is in service with his handler, deputy Tyler McDowell.

"I couldn't be happier with how the therapy-dog program has taken off," Baldwin said. "Our K-9 units have long been a great asset to the crime-fighting side of law enforcement, but with the addition of Mattis and Stark, we are now giving focus to the victims of crime."

The program was three years in the making, as Metz first approached Baldwin's predecessor, Sheriff Zach Scott. Her idea gained traction after she pitched the program last January to Baldwin, who had restructured the command staff after taking office in 2017.

A donation of $10,000 was used to purchase Mattis from Borador Labrador Retrievers of Powell and to modify a police SUV for Metz and Mattis to use.

Other donations helped with training and upkeep, Metz said.

Buckeye K9 and Angie's Therapy Dog Class provided training for Mattis. Petland donates food, and Sassy Dogs Salon provides grooming services.

Sassy Dogs is at 4529 Scioto Darby Road in the Darby Town Center on the edge of Hilliard.

Groomer Cheryl McCool, who lives in Hilliard, said she has known Metz for several years.

"I offered to provide day care (and grooming) for Mattis," said McCool, who is extending the same services to Stark.

McCool has operated Cheryl's Doggie Daycare on Trabue Road in Columbus for 14 years. She opened Sassy Dogs Salon in August.

Cheryl's Doggie Daycare provides companionship and care for dogs from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, she said.

"Whenever (Metz) has classes or other (work) obligations that don't involve Mattis, he's here with us," McCool said.

When Mattis is on-duty, rather than sniffing for marijuana or tracking a hidden criminal, his role is to bring some calm and comfort in stressful and tragic situations, Metz said.

Metz and Mattis have not been called upon yet to make a death notification, Metz said, but such an instance is when Mattis can be used, especially if children have lost a family member.

Mattis also thrives in a public-relations role by visiting schools with Metz to present Operation Street Smart, a drug-education and -prevention program. (Its predecessor was DARE.)

Last fall, Metz and Mattis spent time at St. Brendan School, a parochial school in Hilliard.

"All the kids loved seeing Mattis every day he was here," said Becky Piela, assistant principal at St. Brendan.

For now, Mattis and Stark will be the sheriff's office's only therapy dogs.

"We will continue to evaluate the overall program to measure its effectiveness and then determine how it will proceed, (but) everyone is thrilled with what they have accomplished," Baldwin said.

To learn more about Mattis, visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/mattisk9.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo