Westerville police counting on Chloe to offer soothing therapy

Jim Woods
The Columbus Dispatch
Westerville Division of Police officer Mark Wojciehowski kneels next to Chloe, the division's new therapy dog, Oct. 30. Chloe, a yellow English Labrador retriever, is the first therapy dog to join the force. The division saw the value of a therapy dog after the shooting death of officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli in February 2018.

It was during some of the most difficult days the Westerville Division of Police had ever experienced that the comfort a dog can provide would become so evident.

And it's why Chloe, a friendly, 14 month-old yellow English Labrador retriever, is now a member of the city's police force. She started serving as the department's first therapy K-9 last week. 

On Feb. 10, 2018, Westerville police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli were fatally shot while responding to a domestic-violence call.

The sudden deaths shocked and saddened the men and women who work in the police department. Chief Charles Chandler was a lieutenant then.

In the days afterward, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office brought over its therapy dogs. The sheriff's office started its therapy-dog program in 2017 and now has three. The Columbus Division of Police started its unit last year and has five therapy dogs.

Watching how the dogs have interacted with members of the department and have helped to calm people at a difficult time resonated with Chandler.

Officer Mark Wojciehowski also remembers how the dogs were such a welcome relief for him and other members of the department.

"They were so therapeutic, especially when people don't want to talk," Wojciehowski said. "You could just see people melt."

Chandler said he believes the timing was right for Westerville to have a therapy dog.

Wojciehowski was chosen to be Chloe's handler, in part because he also is the department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, who teaches children about the dangers of drugs.

"A dog is a good tool to have because they have a bond with kids," Chandler said.

The chief said he also envisions how Chloe could be helpful when his department encounters "child victims or cases of domestic violence."

For now, though, Chloe spent a week getting acquainted with the Westerville police staff.

Wojciehowski said Chloe was with him when he taught a DARE class to fifth-graders via Zoom.

Chloe was purchased from the Rocky Hill Farms in Perrysville, Ashland County. When Chloe is off-duty, she stays with Wojciehowski.

In the coming days, Chloe will attend obedience school and be taught how to become a better therapy dog.

Wojciehowski said although Chloe is a young dog, she seems mature for her age and shows good signs of being able to perform the job well.

"She has a great demeanor and is very teachable," Wojciehowski said.

Westerville's police division already has a K-9 patrol dog. Chloe, though, will not duplicate the duties of the other dog.

"She will just do community relations and therapy," Chandler said.

And that's something that's needed, Chandler said, "especially with these times (of COVID-19), when we need to bring a little sunshine."

jwoods@dispatch.com

@Woodsnight