Victim Assistance dog comforts students
If you have seen four paws and a fluffy tail on campus, chances are it’s Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s Victim Assistance dog, Oakley. This one and a-half-year-old black English lab is not your ordinary dog — his job is to assist crime victims.
Richard Montemayor, a freshman at the university remembered meeting Oakley during one of his strolls on campus.
“I could tell he was very well-trained and it made me feel better when I was interacting with him even though I didn’t know at the time he was a service dog,” Montemayor said. “I thought he was just a campus drug dog.”
Karen Tucker-Engel, crime prevention officer for the university, is Oakley’s main caretaker. She’s worked for the university for over three and half years, and she was aware of other campuses and units who provide similar services.
She introduced the idea to university Police Chief Davidson and Oakley became part of the A&M-University Police Department family.
Oakley was adopted from a kennel in Kerrville Texas, and he currently resides with Officer Engel. Oakley attends a puppy class where he’s learning obedience commands such as sit, walk and stay. Oakley’s favorite place to visit is the university.
“As soon as he sees people his tail starts wagging and ready to go to work,” Engel said.
Oakley’s average work day is accompanying Officer Engel while on duty. They walk throughout the halls on campus for the students to interact with him.
One of Oakley’s favorite tricks is “Go Jaguars Go!” When Officer Engel points up and says ‘Go Jaguars Go,’ Oakley barks twice.
When off-duty, Oakley can be found at his home in the country enjoying his treats, chewing up anything he can find and playing with his sister Bell, who is a German Shepherd who also lives with Officer Engel.
“One time my husband was doing laundry and he went to take a nap since he works nights and didn’t think anything of it until he looked out the front yard,” Officer Engel said. “There were clothes everywhere.”
Oakley started an obedience course in April that advances his training to help him avoid distractions during work. Oakley’s next goal after completing the obedience course is to receive a Canine Good Citizen Award from the American Kennel Club, an award presented to dogs who display good manners at home and in the community.
Interaction with comfort animals such as Oakley can help reduce anxiety and blood pressure while providing security and increase focus to those in need.
Gustavo DeLaFuente is a freshman on campus as well as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate with the San Antonio Police Department. His job is to visit substations to help record and advise victims of domestic violence who are in need of assistance.
DeLaFuente is a child of domestic violence. In 2004, his mother spoke against their abuser in order to protect him and his two siblings while they were living in San Benito, Texas. DeLaFuente believes that his mother being “headstrong” impacted his present career choice.
“A lot of people are afraid to do that because of consequences that might happen to them,” DeLaFuente said. “You need to think of the effects on other individuals around you, not just yourself, because it could be your children in danger.”
DeLaFuente did not have a service animal present during that time but believes that if he had one, it would have helped the healing process. He believes the university made a good choice to bring on a campus victim assistance dog.
“I think it is very well tailored to the victims who experience that. There are studies that prove that having a dog helps victims come out of their shell,” DeLaFuente said.
Since Oakley is still in training he makes random visits to campus but can be requested from the University Police Department. His next scheduled appearance is Welcome Week which is the first week of the fall 2018 semester. Oakley plans to celebrate his second birthday that week.
If you are a witness, crime victim, in need of assistance or would like to request a visit from Oakley, contact Officer Engel at her dispatch phone number 210-784-1906.