It took one, OK, maybe two seconds for a connection to be made.
Rich Miller, meet Leo.
Leo, meet Rich Miller.
Miller, an Orland Park police officer who has the title of assistant support services manager, had the task of heading to Florida in mid-September to meet, train with and bring home Leo, the department’s first comfort dog.
The 8-month-old black Labrador and the Orland cop clicked right away.
“They let him out of the cage, and he jumped up on me and started licking me,” Miller said of the first meeting. “He was phenomenal.”
Leo came to town Sept. 19 and the next day, he attended a Village of Orland Park Committee of the Whole Meeting, where Police Chief Joseph Mitchell pinned Leo with badge No. 34.
Leo is named for the initials L, E, O, which stand for Law Enforcement Organization.
The idea is that Leo will be able to help police and the public.
“There is a need for services such as this here in Orland Park,” Mitchell said. “The rise in mental-health related cases and other cases that may cause distress make having a program such as this one a necessity.”
Miller said the dog’s benefits will be far-reaching.
“I think he will be a good advocate for children who are victims of crimes,” Miller added. “I think he will be a good advocate for department members who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. All-around, he will be a great dog for our community.
“He will help foster relationships and cultivate relationships, and it really can only grow from there.”
Leo and other comfort dogs coming from Florida, were trained by prisoners.
According to Orland Park officials, the Paws & Stripes College, part of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, is a dog obedience program implemented to help save dogs in the Brevard County Animal Shelter.
Shelter dogs are paired with inmates who use voice and hand signals to train them.
Leo is already becoming a celebrity. During the Sept. 19 meeting, he was the focus of attention of several cell phone cameras.
On Sept. 20, the village whipped up a lighthearted video highlighting Leo’s first day on the job.
In the past couple of years, police departments all over the country have been turning to comfort and therapy dogs.
According to an article on the police1.com website written by Sgt. Jason Ratcliff, only seven forces, including his Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Columbus Ohio, had dogs in 2017.
“Dogs transcend cultures, religious beliefs and political affiliations,” Ratcliff wrote. “So we knew they could provide a segue into establishing stronger relationships with our diverse population.”
The Orland Park venture to obtain Leo was almost free. There was a $100 therapy dog certification to pay but the rest of Leo’s cost will be for expenses.
More than $6,000 has been raised by an anonymous donor, the Orland Park Law Enforcement Organization and other benefactors.
“This is a great service for our officers and for our residents, and I really appreciate the Orland Park Law Enforcement Organization, an anonymous donor and others for their pledges and donations,” said Mayor Keith Pekau, who gave the pooch a couple of pets before Leo was pinned with his badge.
Miller said that he grew up around dogs and had a black lab similar to Leo.
“Leo is a very smart dog,” Miller said. “I am incredibly impressed and somewhat in awe of how obedient Leo is.”