Puppies Bear, Brookie train to be therapy dogs

Rescued from a garbage dump, the puppies have a job, a home and hundreds of new friends

Stray Rescue of St. Louis is currently training Brookie (left), named after Brookings Hall, and brother Bear. (Photo courtesy of WUPD)

After a “ruff” start, rescue puppies Bear and Brooke, aka Brookie, have a new home at Washington University in St. Louis, where they are training to be therapy dogs. The pups reported for duty a week ago and already have hundreds of human friends and their own Instagram account, Comfort Dogs of WUPD.

“Just walking from the DUC to the Women’s Building to get their IDs took two hours because everyone wanted to meet them,” Washington University Police Chief Angela Coonce said. “We’ve already had students ask if they can give them Bear Bucks for treats.”

Coonce said Bear and Brookie will support the mental health of students and employees experiencing trauma or a crisis. She decided to launch a therapy dog program at WashU after studying such programs’ success at other universities. Research has shown that people who interact with a therapy dog experience lower blood pressure, less anxiety and a better sense of well-being. 

“When I first got here, I noted the number of calls from students who are in crisis — they are away from home or they are facing a challenge,” said Coonce, who joined WUPD in August. “As the first responders, we want to improve how we respond to those calls.”

Coonce also hopes the dogs will serve as a bridge between the department and students.

“Our officers will say, ‘The students don’t really talk to us.’ And I say, ‘When you were 18, did you want to talk to a cop?’” Coonce said. “So already, we’ve been able to have conversations with students we wouldn’t have had without the puppies. They are great icebreakers.”  

Brookie and Bear are Labrador mixes with shiny black coats, floppy ears and the sweetest personalities. Coonce and her fellow officers named the male puppy Bear because, well, how could they not? Brookie officially got her name today, after an online vote. Brookie, in honor of Brookings Hall, bested other university-inspired names such as Millie (for Millbrook) and Frannie (for Francis Field).

The siblings are embracing their newfound popularity. They were abandoned in a rural Missouri dump at six or so weeks old. Stray Rescue of St. Louis rescued the puppies and, observing their gentle temperaments, started therapy training. The shelter now serves as a sponsor for the Washington University program, providing veterinarian care, training and high-quality food. WUPD Officers Greg Casem and Jesse Siefert are the dogs’ partners.

“They had literally been thrown away like trash,” Coonce said. “Now they have a forever home.”

Like their fellow students, Brookie and Bear are quick learners. So far, they’ve mastered sitting and potty training.

“No accidents yet,” Coonce boasted.

Students who have yet to meet the puppies can find them at the Bear’s Den on most evenings or walking through campus. Coonce said Brookie and Bear will join the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Peace Walk and Block Party, which will begin at noon Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Danforth University Center and concludes with a party with Black-owned food trucks at Tisch Park.

Coonce said the department also plans to host “yappy hours” and will post a form allowing groups to request a visit.

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