SMITHFIELD – School Resource Officer Ryan Perry and his therapy dog, Grace, are celebrating two years in service by earning the K9 Officer Program certification from the American Kennel Club.
Grace, pronounced as Gracie, is the second therapy dog in Rhode Island to receive the distinction, which honors dogs that work in government agencies with a unique set of skills, including temperament and intelligence, in Grace’s case.
Grace’s name is an acronym meaning Giving Relief and Compassion and Emotional Support.
Perry said the national award is an honor, and said Grace, who works with him from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Smithfield High School in the SRO office, is deserving. Grace, an Australian Labradoodle, helps calm students in crisis and gives comfort in stressful situations.
“She comes in to work with me every day. She loves it. She’s right by my side all day,” said Perry.
On the weekends, Grace lives with Perry, his wife and two children. He said while they love having her be a normal pet dog, Grace prefers to work.
“She hates the weekends. She doesn’t get to leave and go to work,” he said.
Grace is a “purpose-bred” dog, trained specifically to have a calm temperament. Perry said he was “voluntold” to pick up the therapy dog program, and said it made sense with him working in the schools. He said he and Grace enjoy the work, which often takes them out of SHS to elementary schools, libraries, the Senior Center and other community events.
“She has a calming presence and makes all different types of situations feel comfortable,” said Perry.
Sitting on a blanketed chair in Perry’s office at the high school, Grace makes it easier for students to open up to a police officer, said Perry, a community officer with the Smithfield Police Department who works with students and community organizations to create bonds.
“Most people don’t love to talk to a cop. It’s not like talking to a normal cop when Grace is sitting there,” he said.
Grace sits with Perry while dealing with conflicts with students and other stressful situations, and her training to be hyper-obedient ensures that she will not get in the way during dangerous situations.
While Grace is naturally calm, she still gets a case of the “zoomies” now and again and can be seen on video running around the courtyard at SHS to the delight of students in classrooms nearby.
Perry picked up Grace from Ocean State Labradoodles in North Smithfield and trained two times a week for one year. There is now a weekly training that she will continue while in service. Perry is also a member of the Statewide League of Comfort Dogs and trains with others.
Karen McCarthy of Courtesy Canine, an AKC dog trainer, nominated Grace for her award. Grace also earned the AKC Canine Good Citizen Award last year.
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