Therapy dog laying on the floor.
K9 Hoss takes a break in Cheif Lewis' office.

It’s often said that humans don’t deserve dogs. But when it comes to K9 Hoss, there’s no doubt, Cardinals do.

From homesickness and difficult course loads to the added anxiety of the pandemic, college is full of stressors. That’s where K9 Hoss comes in. Unlike traditional police dogs, the 4-year-old Labrador’s duties involve less drugs and more hugs as the University of Louisville Police Department’s first therapy dog. 

“We believe that a primary mission of law enforcement is to provide service to [our community],” said Sergeant Diana Brian. “Having a support dog is an excellent example.”

Police dog ID and badge.
K9 Hoss’ ID and badge.

In 2018, Brian began looking into the use of therapy dogs on college campuses and within police departments. Between the benefits to those experiencing emotional trauma and the ability to alleviate feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and loneliness, the idea of a ULPD therapy dog was not far-fetched. 

It didn’t take much convincing before ULPD’s Chief Gary Lewis agreed, but plans were stifled when the university turned to remote work in early 2020. The pandemic brought a new set of challenges and stressors, highlighting the growing need to have a therapy dog program in place by the time students return to UofL this fall.

Sergeant Brian’s idea was going to become reality, but she still needed to find and train a dog. That’s when Hoss traded his days at home as the Brian family pet for a ULPD badge.

“One day at home [Hoss] was being really sweet and I thought ‘Why can’t I just use him?,’” said Brian.

Patient with children and gentle around the elderly, Hoss was already a great choice. He completed American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen training as a prerequisite to his upcoming therapy dog training, and started his on-campus duties in mid-July.

Since then, Hoss has hit the ground running – and sometimes laying. If Hoss can provide even a moment of comfort, support or happiness, he’s done his job.

In his short time on campus, he’s already made an impact. When Sergeant Brian took her most recent report from the UofL PEACC center, Hoss joined her to provide comfort in a time of trauma.

“[The student] pet Hoss while she was making the report and that was really helpful,” said Brian. “I hope to incorporate that a lot.”

In addition to helping community members through emotional trauma, one of ULPD’s goals for Hoss is to provide positive interactions between law enforcement and members of the campus community.

“[We want] to get away from the traditional visuals of a uniformed officer with a working dog and continue to reinvigorate our community relations amongst our students, faculty and staff,” said Chief Lewis.

It’s no secret why therapy dog programs are being adopted at police departments across the U.S. – when they aren’t comforting community members, they’re coming to the side of officers and dispatchers after stressful calls. While Hoss’ work is primarily focused on students, faculty and staff, his benefit to the department comes as an added bonus.

Campus has quickly become a second home for the four-legged officer. When he’s not roaming the halls of the station, he’s usually out patrolling campus or visiting various offices to bring a smile to the face of a few Cardinals.

When Hoss enters a room full of people, he can’t help but get excited. But before long, he’s usually settled in with his head on the lap of someone he’s decided needs a bit of added affection.  

“I call it the Labrador lean,” said Brian. 

Students scratching a therapy dog in Ekstrom Library.
Students meet K9 Hoss in Ekstrom Library.

If you see him on campus, badges and all, don’t hesitate to give him a hug. They’re always welcome.