Almost 100 people packed into the Gresham Council Chambers to cheer and celebrate the swearing-in ceremony of the newest, and furriest, police officer in Gresham.
Officer Tagg is a 2-year-old black Labrador that will serve as the Gresham Police Department's comfort dog — a first for Multnomah County. He joined the department about a week ago, and wagged his way through the official welcome ceremony Tuesday morning, Dec. 17.
"Tagg is a fantastic dog," said Officer Ben Costigan, public information officer and Tagg's handler. "He goes everywhere with me, we have already bonded."
Studies show having a dog around can lower blood pressure, have a calming effect, and improve cardiovascular health. Tagg will be part of the employee wellness program in the police department. He will also be able to help with victim or witness interviews; go to non-active, high-stress police calls; and provide support for any other situation where he can be of comfort.
Tagg came to the department from Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Boring-based nonprofit organization that has been creating partnerships between people, dogs and communities since 1942. While Tagg worked hard with Guide Dogs, he couldn't quite complete the rigorous program that sees almost half the dogs turn to new careers.
But when a dog doesn't make it as a guide dog, there are plenty of new avenues to pursue.
"Tagg is unique — easy to handle and social, but also calm and confident," said James Dress, dog placement manager with Guide Dogs for the Blind. "He will love to say hi to people, but won't pull or jump."
Gresham reached out to the organization about bringing on a comfort dog, and after a rigorous vetting process to ensure Tagg would have a good home at the department, the connection was made.
"Tagg is a special dog," Dress said. "Even though he didn't make it as a guide dog, we knew he was destined for more in the community."
One way the department envisions Tagg helping is at a crime scene. Often there are children who are scared and confused about what is happening. While most of the Gresham police cruisers have toys and stuffed animals for that situation, nothing beats the comfort a dog can provide.
"I've heard from other departments with a comfort dog that kids will sit and open up to the dog," Costigan said.
He will also attend various community events, greet visitors to the police department, and support his fellow officers.
"For our officers he brings a calmness," said Gresham Police Chief Robin Sells. "Seeing the dog at the station — people light up."
She added that giving Tagg a scratch behind the ear before a shift has been a huge boost for those serving in a high-stress job.
"We are really excited to see where this all goes," Sells said.
The hard work isn't quite over for Tagg. Between all the belly rubs, he will have to undergo a few training sessions to become the best therapy and comfort dog possible.
During his time with the department, Gresham's Benfield Pet Hospital will provide all of his primary care free of charge — including routine vaccinations, dental cleanings, and health screenings. For any emergency operations, VCA Animal Hospital will look after him.
Every night Tagg will go home with Costigan. Once he completes his final training, community members can expect to see him all over Gresham. For those who can't wait to meet him, you can stay updated on his life at the department by following him on social media: Instagram.com/tagg.time/
Those interested donating to support future ongoing expenses for Tagg can do so at greshamoregon.gov/Pay-Your-Bill-Online/#SponsorshipsandDonations
It was an exciting morning for Tagg, who got his first-taste of the popularity and excitement that will follow him throughout his time as an officer. Sometime after the 60th greeting and pet, he began to get a little tired. He leaned up against Costigan's shoulder for just a moment, taking a quick break, before going back to wagging his tail and nuzzling hands.
"I think it will be nap time after this," Costigan said with a laugh.
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