Swansboro Police Department welcomes emotional support dog to boost mental health

SWANSBORO, N.C. (WITN) -The Swansboro Police Department hired a four-legged pal as an emotional support animal.

Bernie, a family dog, experiences a transformation once he steps foot in the office. Bernie joined the team to help officers with mental health.

“He just showed natural tendencies right from the get-go,” said Thomas Peluso, the administrative assistant with Swansboro Police Department. “He got along with other dogs, kids, the elderly. He’s just very sweet, loving, and wanted to be around people.”

Peluso met Bernie for the first time at an animal shelter and knew he was the one. Having had a Great Pyrenees for nine years, Peluso knew what to look for.

“I showed up at the Onslow County Animal Shelter,” said Peluso. “I was afraid that somebody who didn’t understand the breed would end up adopting him and then he’d be back in the shelter.”

Dwayne Taylor, the Chief of Police, says they should have done this sooner. Bernie is described as a people lover who gets along with everyone.

“When Bernie came along,” said Chief Taylor, “It was like the perfect remedy because he was here every day. Whenever someone walks in, they look for him and pet him.”

Over the last few months, officers at the station say they see a difference. However, it is not just the officers who have connected with Bernie, but the community too.

“They will see him hanging out in my office,” said Peluso. “A lot of the time, people want me to bring him out to meet him.”

From lying on the floor sleeping to running errands around town, Bernie’s number one priority is improving mental health among the officers. Chief Taylor shares why he decided to bring Bernie onto the team.

“A couple of years ago, we had a few suicides in town,” said Chief Taylor. “We had younger officers who were responding to these things. They are young kids going to scenes that are traumatic for them. I didn’t know how to reach them.”

Bernie is now used as a resource for officers to unwind and release stress. Officers go into and leave work with a smile on their faces. Bernie’s training as an emotional support animal will last three months.

“He’s someone they can go to. It helps them to start their day at ease and it gets them in a good mood.”

Swansboro Police say the department is not sure what Bernie’s full-time role will be, but they are excited to have a furry friend like him.