Elvy salutes Campus Police Officer Dustin Coleman (center) and Department of Public Safety Chief Rodney Chatman (right) during her swearing-in ceremony as the department's first service dog.

Date September 9, 2022
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Meet Elvy, a Labrador retriever and the newest member of Brown’s Department of Public Safety

The addition of Elvy, a service dog who came to the University via Puppies Behind Bars, will help to strengthen relationships between public safety personnel and Brown students, faculty, staff and neighbors.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown community members strolling across the College Green and attending athletic events during the first week of the academic year were greeted by a wet nose and wagging tail, courtesy of Elvy, the Department of Public Safety’s first service dog.

Together with her handler, Campus Police Officer Dustin Coleman, Elvy is making the rounds on campus. She was officially “sworn in” on Friday, Sept. 9, during an afternoon ceremony on the Faunce Steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center.

As an ambassador for the department, Elvy is a comfort dog whose charge is to be a welcoming and calming presence for students, staff, faculty and the community at large, according to Department of Public Safety (DPS) Chief Rodney Chatman, Brown’s vice president for campus safety.

“The more barriers we remove between public safety and the community, the more we can build trust and honest conversations and an understanding that we are a resource for the campus,” Chatman explained.

During the brief and lighthearted swearing-in ceremony — punctuated by snippets of the popular song “Who Let the Dogs Out” by the Baha Men — Elvy dutifully barked on command, saluted, and received rubs and cuddles from her fellow officers, including Chatman, Coleman and Lt. Kevin O’Connor, who oversees the department's community engagement division.

“We are a department that is very committed to you, and we are committed to outreach and to community engagement,” Chatman said during remarks from a podium before dozens of students and community members gathered on the College Green.

O’Connor thanked colleagues from multiple University departments, praising their support for bringing Elvy to Brown DPS to strengthen its community engagement efforts and service to students. “[The addition of a service dog] is an additional tool, and K-9 Elvy will add unbelievable excitement to this campus and this community,” O’Connor said.

The ceremony concluded with an oath laden with plenty of puns and dog humor, as Chatman “swore in” Elvy, who barked on command and took a bow.

“I, Elvy, ‘paws-itively’ promise to assist the Brown community and its community outreach efforts and help create ‘paws-itive’ conversations and interactions between the Department of Public Safety and the Brown community,” Chatman recited. “If you agree to those terms, Elvy, please speak.”

People have been petting her and asking about her. She opens up conversations, and it helps people see beyond my uniform and get to know me as a person doing my job so they can learn about the department and all the programs we offer the community...

Dustin Coleman Campus Police Officer and Elvy's Handler
Elvy at volleyball pep rally

Coleman prompted Elvy to bark, and he pinned a Brown police badge to her harness vest.

“She’s tired already,” O’Connor quipped during his remarks. “She hasn’t asked me for vacation time but she’s working hard.”

Providing comfort, building community

The one-and-a-half-year-old Labrador retriever came to Brown DPS via an organization called Puppies Behind Bars, which trains incarcerated individuals to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans, first responders and law enforcement officers. Dogs are specifically bred, raised and trained for the program, and selected for their temperament.

“She’s trained to be present and friendly and to be petted,” Chatman said. “There is also science behind this and evidence that the presence of comfort dogs reduces blood pressure, lowers anxiety and elevates moods.”

Colleges and universities around the country have welcomed service dogs as part of their public safety departments. During her inaugural week at Brown, Elvy participated in New Student Orientation activities and fairs and attended the pep rally for the volleyball team in the Pizzitola Sports Center. Her community engagement efforts even extend to an Instagram account.

“People have been petting her and asking about her,” Coleman said. “She opens up conversations, and it helps people see beyond my uniform and get to know me as a person doing my job so they can learn about the department and all the programs we offer the community, such as property registration, self-defense courses, safety walks and first aid programs.”

Elvy completed 10 months of training in socialization at the Otisville and Fishkill prisons in New York, learning dozens of commands. During her training, she spent weekends in New York City with civilians and learned to acclimate to crowds, public transportation, elevators and noise.

During the ceremony, Coleman showed the audience a book that contained letters from each incarcerated individual, foster family and trainer who worked with Elvy through the Puppies Behind Bars training program. He read a passage from an incarcerated person who referred to Elvy as “the queen” and wrote with fondness that “you licked my face the moment I held you in my arms.”

“She’s bonding Brown DPS with all of you in the Brown community,” Coleman said during the ceremony. “I’ve seen in two short weeks, I’ve been stopped more times than I can count.

“It takes probably an hour and a half for me to get across the main green,” he added with a laugh.

Brown DPS is a fully functioning police department with police jurisdiction on the Brown campus and adjacent streets, but Elvy is not an incident response dog, department leaders noted. But Coleman and colleagues are hopeful that she can augment the support they provide to community members experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety.

“I can respond with her to mental health calls,” Coleman explained. “I can get her to lay down with people, cuddle people and help relax the mood.”

“We’ll be asking K-9 Elvy to serve as a wellness ambassador and a compassion dog to all the Brown community,” O’Connor said during the ceremony.

Chatman believes that Elvy is a natural extension of the community engagement work that’s under way in the department.

“Seeing the benefits that comfort dogs have been achieving with departments across the country, I think she’ll really help bring the community together,” he said.