Meet Jessie: The therapy dog who helps Ingham County dispatchers in times of crisis

“It was kind of a joke. ‘Barb, get us a dog.’”
How a therapy dog helps Ingham County dispatchers during traumatic, stressful times
How a therapy dog helps Ingham County dispatchers during traumatic, stressful times
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 7:36 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - One of the newest members of the team at Ingham County’s 911 dispatch center has quickly become one of the most valuable - and she doesn’t even know how to answer a call.

Her name is Jessie, and she’s the first to take on this new role at the center, in what is often a very stressful environment. And on top of it all, she doesn’t even collect a paycheck.

“There’s a lot of things that go on in this 911 center that are, as you well know - we talked about it not that long ago - very traumatic and hard,” said Barbara Davidson, the Director of Ingham County 911.

Related: A Calm Voice During Chaos: A dispatcher’s experience during the MSU shooting

Jessie is a station service dog, a rising trend in 911 centers across the nation. She’s specially trained to work in a public safety setting to offer the kind of support dispatchers may not even realize they need.

“She’s the normal that all of the staff craves,” Davidson said.

Comfort for dispatchers who talk people through some of their worst moments. The idea was proposed nearly two years ago when Barbara Davidson took over as director. What started out as a joke became a serious effort to help dispatchers cope with stress on the job.

After months of research, she found Jessie at K-9′s for Warriors in Florida. The organization saves shelter dogs and trains them as service dogs for veterans and public safety settings. It took more than a year to bring 2-and-a-half-year-old Jessie on board, and the timing was a blessing. She arrived at Ingham County 911 just two months before the mass shooting at Michigan State University.

“She was here that night. She sat behind the police dispatcher, there were a lot of people in the building that night, and she just sat there and waited,” Davidson said. “And that’s what she is trained to do. She’s not a pet. She really is a therapy dog.”

This is how Jessie spends a lot of her time. And while it looks like she may be slacking, she’s really reading the room and hard at work.

“She can sense the stress in the room. So if someone needs it, she will just come and lay like this. And just sit there so you can just turn around and talk to her or pet her,” Missy Harris said. “She’s just really there for us, anytime we need her.”

Jessie is trained to put her needs behind the business at hand. That means no barking, no running, and no on-demand bathroom breaks.

“She loves to come to work. Are you kidding me? There are 15 people out there that give her treats all day long,” Davidson said. “I mean we laugh all the time about how we’d all like to have Jessie’s job and be her because she just kind of hangs out and then she gets belly rubs, and that may not be all bad.”

Jessie’s now venturing outside the 911 center to get those belly rubs. Last month, she paid a visit to MSU in her Spartan jersey to give students some love during final exams.

“Really nice to see the smiles,” Davidson said. “And she does it for us, so it was really nice to see her do it for them as well.”

Jessie’s trainers said she has a disposition of love, a gift that took her from a shelter to the hearts of the people we rely on during emergencies every day.

“I don’t know what we’d do without her,” Davidson said.

Jessie does get days off. You may even see her out at a public event this summer. And she’s not the only 911 dispatch service dog in Mid-Michigan. Eaton County just got a dog, his name is Hutch.

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