AURORA | The newest member of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office is just a baby.
A puppy, that is. Riley is a nine week old black Labrador retriever who was sworn in on Sept. 12 to work with the department’s school resource officers in the Cherry Creek School District.
The Sheriff’s Office first brought two dogs on board to work with SROs in the Littleton school district as therapy dogs a little over a year ago. After the success of that program, it’s now adding a dog in Cherry Creek schools that ACSO serves (the district has SROs from both the Sheriff’s Office and Aurora Police).
As he grows, Riley will receive training in how to become an American Kennel Club-certified therapy dog, and will work with officers to help students who are in crisis or who have special needs.
“There’s so many amazing pieces to the program,” Sgt. Matt Cleveland said. The therapy dogs in Littleton Public Schools, Rex and Zeke, have been so successful that it seemed like a no-brainer to add one in Cherry Creek as well, and Cleveland said they hope to bring on more after Riley.
Cleveland said the department hopes that Riley will become dual certified in being able to detect firearms, like Rex, (who is also Riley’s uncle — the three dogs are all from the same reputable breeder, Duck Creek Kennels in Wellington).
But the first part of Riley’s training is to just get Riley socialized to be around young children, which a group of second graders at Fox Hollow Elementary School was more than happy to help with as Riley visited their room on Thursday afternoon.
As his handler, Deputy Adam Nardi spoke to the students about Riley, the guest of honor fell asleep on the classroom floor, seemingly unbothered by all the tiny hands petting him.
“This takes a lot out of him,” Nardi said. As a puppy, Riley sleeps a lot during the day but it hasn’t stopped the pair from having a busy schedule. It was the third school the duo had visited that day, and Nardi estimated that in his time at the Sheriff’s Office Riley had already met about 1,500 students.
“He’s been pet a lot,” he said.
Riley is a hit with adults as well as kids. At the Cherry Creek School Board meeting earlier this month, Superintendent Scott Smith spoke about getting to meet him and pet him.
“If it does for our students what it did for me in two seconds it’ll be amazing,” Smith said with a laugh.
Cleveland said that ACSO’s program is relatively unique in the state, and that next week the department will actually be holding a training for other law enforcement agencies that are interested in incorporating dogs into their SRO units.
Along with the emotional support they provide, Cleveland said it’s a great way to connect with students who might otherwise be reticent about interacting with police.
“If I walk down the hall in a high school, some kids won’t even say hi to you,” he said. “You walk in with a dog, they all say hi to you.”