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DPS dog Elvy builds connections on, off campus

CAPS, police dog peers engage with DPS’s black labrador

<p>Elvy’s popularity has grown to the point that staff of some offices have requested to have her at least once a week, according to Elvy&#x27;s handler and DPS Officer Dustin Coleman</p><p>Courtesy of Dustin Coleman</p>

Elvy’s popularity has grown to the point that staff of some offices have requested to have her at least once a week, according to Elvy's handler and DPS Officer Dustin Coleman

Courtesy of Dustin Coleman

Since joining the Department of Public Safety as a therapy and comfort dog last September, black labrador Elvy has been fostering new relationships within the Brown community and beyond, according to her handler, DPS Officer Dustin Coleman.

With Elvy’s growing campus presence, Coleman said the pair have been busy the past few months. Elvy gets regular requests from “students asking for time to walk her and pet her,” and staff in some offices “have requested to have her at least once a week,” he added.

In response to increased demand for time with her, Elvy will now be available every Monday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at the Counseling and Psychological Services offices located at 450 Brook Street.

“Students can sit in an open place and play fetch with her, pet her, maybe sit down and talk to another student,” he said. “They can really interact with Elvy and even other students who might be going through the same stressors.”


Elvy has also opened doors for new connections between DPS and the Brown community as she has become more widely recognized across campus, Coleman said.

“There (are) a lot more people stopping to ask me how (Elvy is) and asking what we’re doing with DPS events,” Coleman said, adding that he has started connecting with students “on a level of person-to-person.”

“Given different lived experiences, we know that some people are not comfortable walking up to an officer to ask for help or to just say hello,” wrote Quiana Young, director of advocacy, engagement and communications for DPS, in an email to The Herald.

“Community members stop Coleman all the time because they see Elvy first, which has allowed people to then ask questions or bring up a concern. In that sense, this is just one of the ways in which our department can build bridges and create space to have dialogue,” she added.

Since joining the department in September, Elvy has amassed a sizable Instagram following — Coleman posts on her behalf to an account that has over 1,500 followers. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve had positive interactions through (her) Instagram,” Coleman said.

Attending anywhere from three to 10 events each week at the request of teams and clubs, Coleman said he believes that he and Elvy are making a difference. He added that many in the Brown community have reached out to thank him and Elvy for comforting them when they were down.

Elvy also visits organizations that request her presence off campus. Jennifer Beiermann, teen librarian at the Warwick Library, had been looking for a therapy dog to come visit when she learned about Elvy through the dog’s Instagram account, Beiermann wrote in a message to The Herald. She invited Elvy and Coleman to the library, and they visited on Jan. 6 to greet staff and visitors. The event was so well-received by library-goers that Elvy and Coleman will return for another visit in February.

The duo also traveled to Northeastern University with other police dogs to comfort the Northeastern community after a package exploded on campus in September. Elvy particularly enjoys events where she works in coordination with other dogs, Coleman said. “The stress goes off her because when you have 15 dogs in one room, Elvy is not the only (dog) getting attention,” he added.

Elvy and Coleman also have relationships with other canines and handlers through Puppies Behind Bars, the organization that trained Elvy for her responsibilities as a police and comfort dog. The handlers try to organize meetings for the dogs as much as possible, Coleman said.

“Once a month, there should be some type of dog interaction happening,” he explained, noting their plans to meet with PBB-trained dog Heidi from Yale in February, as well as several visits from Harvard’s police dog Sasha, who graduated in the same class as Elvy.


“We are always looking to collaborate and learn from other departments and universities,” Young wrote. “Elvy has been a new method to do that.”

These visits and meetups are also informative for Coleman, as he gets to learn from experienced police dog handlers, he explained.

In December, Elvy and Coleman were invited to attend a New York Giants game where Elvy and other police dogs were honored. “There were a lot more veteran handlers (at the event) than rookies, so we got to sit down and really talk to them” about police dog handling, Coleman said.

This July, Coleman will host a symposium on campus about police dogs, with a series of lectures from officers “talking about anything from mental health to maintenance of your dog,” he said. Dogs from departments everywhere from New Jersey to Canada will visit campus for students to meet after the event.

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As for Elvy’s role moving forward, Young hopes that new programs and initiatives can be developed once the department determines where Elvy is needed most.

“We are thinking about how we purposefully build bridges with the community and provide emotional and social support, especially in situations where someone may be a survivor of a crime and is experiencing trauma or secondary trauma,” she wrote.

Coleman is also looking forward to the future services Elvy will provide for the community, he said. “We’re happy to be here. We’re happy to serve (the) student body. We’re happy to see that everyone has taken to (her) positively.”


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