For Immediate Release
Contact: Daniel Wackershauser, Marketing Specialist
Mail: 1800 Bronson Blvd., Fennimore, WI 53809
Date of Release: October 11, 2022
Alumna leading sheriff’s office K9 therapy programLancaster -
Cassara Bray, a correctional/K9 officer at the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, may have the cutest co-worker. Bray, a 2019 graduate from the Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Criminal Justice program, works alongside Zelda, a nearly four-month-old mini golden doodle puppy. The dog is part of the department’s new K9 therapy program that Bray is leading. Out of a pool of applicants, Bray was selected as the handler for Zelda, which means the pair spends every minute together, both at home and on-the-job.
“With all our K9s…you’re really looking for someone who is all in, because it’s a huge responsibility, it’s daily care, somebody that has to love animals and who has to do that constant training with them,” said Nate Dreckman, Grant County sheriff. “Cassara is someone who jumped right into it.”
“She’s really grabbed the reigns and ran with this,” added Dreckman. “She’s doing a fantastic job so far.”
Bray noted that when they transferred from the former jail to the new jail outside of Lancaster, she saw a need for additional mental health resources for the inmates. She thought a therapy dog would be a good alternative. Dreckman researched the idea and saw that the Dunn County (WI) Sheriff’s Office was utilizing K9 therapy. He thought it would be beneficial for Grant County, as well, and decided to move forward.
Bray was named to the position in August, and since then, she’s been helping Zelda get acclimated to her surroundings at the sheriff’s office, including the staff area and the jail. Zelda accompanies Bray during her 12-hour day shifts. “Zelda sort of does her thing when she is here right now,” said Bray, noting, she interacts with the staff and the inmates and she has been used occasionally in on-one-on situations with inmates to help decrease a chance of a suicide watch or a potential hands-on situation between them and staff members.
Dreckman said they will have a three-pronged approach when it comes to utilizing Zelda – staff, community and inmates. “Obviously, we do a very challenging job, from patrol, dispatch and jail,” he said. “We see a lot of bad things, so, therapy dog for the staff would be the number one priority. Number two is other schools or nursing homes or other places where there may be a need for it. And, obviously, the inmates as well, to hopefully bring some sense of normalcy.”
Zelda recently graduated from puppy pre-school and will be starting additional training Nov. 1. The puppy came to the sheriff’s office from Bray’s sister, Danielle Nelson, who currently has Zelda’s mother. In addition, Nelson’s mother has Zelda’s father, so the family of dogs is close.
So far, both Bray and Dreckman agree, the early results have been positive. “It’s had a huge impact on staff already,” said Dreckman. “I walked into Captain Rick Place’s office and what’s he got sitting on this desk? A bag of treats, so I would imagine you’re going to start to see some more of that from various staff throughout the facility as she becomes a little more well-known as people start to see her more.”
“As soon as she walks in the door they stop what they are doing and spend time with her,” said Bray. “You can just see the switch in their mind, from ‘ok, let’s put work aside and let’s see Zelda.’ It just makes their day. Even her just running through the hallways, if they poke their heads out, everyone loves her.”
If things go well over the next year, Dreckman said he might look into the possibility of getting another therapy K9 for the night shift.
Even though Zelda and Bray work together at the sheriff’s office, they also try to be available 24/7, should they be needed in an emergency situation.
Within the next couple of weeks, the sheriff’s office is expecting delivery of a special vehicle for Bray and Zelda. Community members will see the duo around the area, spreading a message of mental health awareness. They plan to visit schools, nursing homes, and community events. “We’re looking forward to meeting everybody,” said Bray. “She loves people, loves to meet everybody, so expect a lot of puppy kisses.”
| Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, a finalist for the 2023 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, is one of 16 institutions that comprise the Wisconsin Technical College System. Southwest Tech offers more than 60 programs in a wide variety of disciplines. Courses are offered on campus, online, HyFlex and in a blended format. The college provides apprenticeship, certificate, technical diploma, and associate degree programs that respond to district workforce needs and prepare student for family-sustaining jobs and career advancement. |