A project using dogs to support the mental health and wellbeing of police officers and staff is being piloted in East Sussex.

The Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dogs Project was initiated by the National Police Wellbeing Service to help encourage conversations about mental health among police officers and staff.

With the help of Service Dogs UK, the project builds on local wellbeing dog services where they exist and provides guidance, best practice and support to other forces that want to introduce them.

The project recognises the value of dogs in helping officers and staff with wellbeing, by creating an environment where people feel comfortable to talk about their wellbeing and mental health.

Each dog has a handler that is a mental health first aider or trained peer supporter who are ideally placed to listen and sign-post to support if required.

A couple of the dogs are also available in custody suites, and can sometimes be used to defuse tense situations and calm those who may become nervous or agitated in custody.

In Sussex, Rocky and Luther can be found in the Custody Centres, while Chief Inspector Di Lewis’s dog Milo and PC Daren Buck’s dog Stanley are often seen about the police stations in East Sussex.

There is also Beau, who is a PTSD Assistance Dog in training with his partner Glen, and they will often be seen around Sussex Police headquarters in Lewes, including often popping into the contact centre.  

Sergeant Garry Botterill, who is leading on the Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dogs Project, said: “This project is a fantastic way to help encourage officers to open up, engage and speak about their mental health and wellbeing. Dogs have a friendly, calming influence and people are noticeably more relaxed and comfortable in their presence.

“By introducing trained support dogs and their handlers to frontline police officers and staff, it helps create an environment for conversations about their mental health and to highlight the relevant services which can provide help and support to those who need it.

“It’s incredibly important that people feel they can talk about their mental health, particularly in a job that presents people with challenging and traumatic situations. The dogs offer some light relief from the often difficult job we do, and anything that makes people feel positive and gets them talking should be encouraged.”