Today I had the unparalleled pleasure of meeting with Sgt Jason Ratcliff of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office (FCSO), and his partner, Kit, a sworn Deputy Sheriff K9. As excited as I was to meet Sgt Ratcliff, I was hoping Kit would be there as well. I was not disappointed. She is a standard poodle with a graceful walk and a playful air. She greeted me sweetly, then settled in for a nap once she realized Sgt Ratcliff and I were talking about things that didn't require her attention.
Sgt Ratcliff invited me to meet with him and explore how Starfish and FCSO could work together. He seemed to sense that I had many questions about his program, and he graciously put aside his own questions about Starfish to give me the details on the FCSO's Therapy Dog program. When the program was established in March 2017, they were one of only six such programs in the country, and are now one of 20. The primary job of a therapy K9 is to provide comfort to victims who have experienced emotional or physical trauma. It seems so simple, and yet it is so uncommon. Of COURSE the police come in contact with people who need emotional support. Of COURSE a dog could help ease their anxiety and stress. I am so proud of Sheriff Dallas Baldwin for recognizing the value this program brings to the citizens of Franklin County and for moving so quickly to implement it for us.
Sgt Ratcliff said that most of their work centers around children, but they also frequently help with victims of domestic violence. If, for example, a woman is terrified to testify against her abuser, he and Kit will pick her up, escort her to court, and escort her home. If anything could ease someone's stress in that awful situation, it makes sense that it would be a friendly, loving pup.
Kit also attends community events, and she frequently visits schools. Sgt Ratcliff said she's been in a crowd of 100 first graders, completely happy and unstressed. She has a beautiful temperament. While she was sleeping on her bed, I went and knelt in front of her. As soon as she sensed my presence, she perked up, ready to be petted.
The FCSO has four therapy K9's, and the program is completely supported through donations. Vet care, grooming, food, toys, supplies--all covered by organizations outside of FCSO. It's beautiful that so many people in Franklin County see the benefits of this program and and are willing to support it through donations.
Starfish is hoping to partner closely with Sgt Ratcliff and the FCSO. We're both looking for ways to work together, and Sgt Ratcliff is already spreading the word about the mission of Starfish Assignment.
On a personal note, the more I learn about the Columbus Police Department and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, the more impressed I am with both organizations. I had no idea what world-class law enforcement organizations we have here, and I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to learn more about them and to pass on those experiences to you.