September 30, 2022

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PSO therapy dogs help deputies with mental health-related calls

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More law enforcement agencies are changing how they handle people in crisis, including the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Within the department’s behavioral health intervention team, there are four trained therapy dogs, and K-9 Mango is one of them.

“He’s a rescue. So we got him from Brevard County,” said Detective Ricardo Ortiz, who is K-9 Mango’s handler. “They have an outfit up there called Paws and Stripes where the actual inmates in striped uniforms actually teach these dogs.”

Ortiz said he first met Mango two and a half years ago, and they had a fast connection.

K-9 Mango is one of four therapy dogs at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. He responded to more than 120 calls in 2021. 

“When he came out, he was so chill, like, ‘hey, guys, can I come out?’ And I was like, ‘that’s him,'” said Ortiz. “His demeanor is perfect for what I need him for. The kind of calls I go out to, that we both go out to, we go to people in crisis.”

MORE: Hillsborough sheriff’s K9 tracks down missing woman with dementia

When the patrol car door opens at a call, K-9 Mango is the face residents see. Ortiz said before introducing therapy dogs like K-9 Mango, it could sometimes take one or two visits before the person knows he’s not there to take them to jail or Baker Act them. 

“I go there with Mango, we break the ice in 10 minutes, so he helps out tremendously,” Ortiz said.

K-9 Mango is one of four therapy dogs at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. He responded to more than 120 calls in 2021.

Since 2019, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office said BHIT detectives responded to 16,631 calls for service, and 86% of them were primarily mental health related. In 2021, the team handled 8,187 calls, and so far in 2022, the team has had 2,502 calls for service. K-9 Mango responded 123 times in 2021.

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The sheriff’s office said the therapy dogs’ presence helps, and involuntary exams are now down four percent. 

“They’ll talk to Mango and kind of give me the information they need, let me know what they’re going through. And then that way I can see how I can help them,” said Ortiz.

K-9 Mango and Ortiz can help someone through a crisis one day at a time. Deputies said the therapy dogs respond to more than just mental health calls. They can also go to accidents or calls with children, and they even go and meet people out in the community at hospitals and shopping centers.

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