Zeke, a 5-month-old black Labrador, will be joining Littleton Public Schools as a therapy dog after being sworn in by Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown April 19.
Zeke joins his older brother, Rex, who has been a therapy dog for the district since he was sworn in May of last year.
Zeke will be accompanied by his handler, Deputy Travis Jones, a school resource officer at Newton Middle School in Centennial, as part of a program that Brown said will “make sure that we are supporting students and community members in the best way possible.”
“And this again is just another resource that we have,” Brown said.
Zeke will undergo months of on-the-job training with Jones, including a class through the American Kennel Club, before he is officially certified as a therapy dog. But from the moment he steps on school grounds, he’ll serve as an active resource for schoolchildren.
Jones said he was inspired to become a handler after seeing how Rex made students feel calmer, especially in moments of mental crisis.
“If we can do something to make school easier for students, then by all means,” Jones said.
Jones said having a therapy dog by an officer’s side can improve interactions between law enforcement and students.
“The communication opens up with us and the kids, for those kids to see us as ‘oh just because law enforcement’s here doesn’t mean something bad happened,'” Jones said.
Jones named his Lab after his dad’s German shepherd, which he called his “buddy and my protector” when he was a child.
Jones’ father, Dan, served with the Aurora Police Department from 1973 to 1996. For much of the early and mid-1980s, Dan’s right hand was his German shepherd, Zeke, a narcotics dog.
Now, decades later, Dan looks to his son and a new Zeke as the next generation.
“It’s like coming full circle,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. And it’s great that we now have therapy dogs available for kids or people in distress. We all know you get a dog in the room and everybody lights up a bit.”
Mark Edson, assistant director of security and emergency planning at Littleton Public Schools, said the dog therapy program has been an important opportunity to “bridge the gap between police officers” and schools.
Before coming to LPS, Edson worked for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office as a school resource officer for the district and, in 2019, helped pilot the dog therapy program.
“It allowed interactions between the school resource officer and students that I had never experienced,” Edson said. “It just brightened their day.”
He said it also gives schools an added tool for aiding in students’ mental health struggles.
“If a student’s having a bad day in a classroom and is not engaging any mental health professionals, I can bring in a therapy canine to lick him on the ear and it immediately changes their attitude and their direction,” Edson said. “It is just such a positive tool that these officers have.”