This week Cleveland Police have launched their first OK9 Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dogs Bella and Sol to help support officers and staff with their mental health.

In a launch ceremony held on Monday 26 July 2021, Bella, a one-year-old female Labrador and Husky cross and Sol, a nine-year-old male Standard Poodle were presented with their official ‘OK9’ wellbeing jackets and their handlers presented with certificates and pin badges. 

Bella and Sol will work with the Force’s Wellbeing and Blue Light team to deliver a programme of wellbeing initiatives across the organisation.

Their handlers, Amanda Buck, Centre Manager of Breckon Hill Community Centre and Hilary Brown, Cleveland Police Volunteer are both trained in First Aid Mental Health and Peer Support and will be available, on a voluntary basis, to any officers and staff who may need signposting to other services available within the Force.

Amanda Buck, Bella’s handler said: “Bella joined our family at the age of six months in December 2020. The Community Centre was operating a scaled down service during the pandemic, so Bella attended work with me daily.

“By week three, I noticed that Bella would gravitate towards people who were anxious or stressed.  She showed compassion and her behaviour changed towards each individual.  Bella greets some people with excitement, others with a submissive roll over and others a slow snuggle.  

“At home, she is a typical puppy, chewing, stealing, and ruling the roost claiming every bed or chair as her own.”

Hilary Brown, Sol’s handler said: “I was so pleased to hear of this national initiative of having wellbeing dogs. I was approached by Inspector Phil Spencer, who had heard about Sol, to see if we would be interested in this. I said yes straight away as the pressure on officers and staff is immense and I hope that Sol can help.

“I find that my pets provide me with a lot of emotional support at times. He passed his assessment with flying colours.

“I volunteer for Blue Cross as an educational speaker and Sol is a Blue Cross education dog too. I have often said that Sol has such a lovely nature that he is here to bring joy to people’s lives, so now he may be able to help even more people.”

Cleveland Police’s Inspector Phil Spencer, Wellbeing and Blue Light Co-ordinator said: “It’s proven that the presence of a wellbeing dog has a calming influence and through interaction with Bella and Sol, we are hoping to encourage officers and staff to engage and speak about mental health and wellbeing.

“Both dogs are great to work with and we are delighted to be welcoming them to the team.”

Sergeant Garry Botterill, Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dog Project Lead for The National Police Wellbeing Service said: “Police officers and staff do a demanding and sometimes dangerous job, and in many roles are frequently exposed to trauma.  Over recent years, police forces around the country have recognised the value of dogs in helping officers and staff with their wellbeing.

“When a dog is introduced to the workplace, the atmosphere immediately changes, and people want to interact with the dog.

“These interactive sessions provide light relief from the rigors of the job and the dogs help get people talking and create expressions of genuine feeling just by being friendly and non-judgemental.” 

Find out more about the OK9 Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dogs below.