SOUTH MIAMI, Fla. – Sparky, a 3-year-old American bulldog mix, is one of the Miami-Dade Police Department's newest therapy dogs, providing comfort and stress relief to nursing home residents, police officers and dispatchers.
He's part of a pilot program to provide emotional support through pet therapy.
Police introduced the newest member of that program to the public Friday in the parking lot in front of Petco.
"Sparky was selected because of his really nice temperament. We thought he had good prospects for the therapy dog," said Dee Hoult, chief executive officer of Applause Your Paws.
But only more than a year ago, in January 2018, Sparky was having a difficult time.
"Sparky was injured," said Alex Munoz, of Miami-Dade Animal Services. "He was hit by a car. He had all types of abrasions and lesions on his body. So our medical team took care of him."
Veterinarians at Miami-Dade Animal Services spent months nursing him back to health, but it was his sweet nature that made him stand out as a candidate for the Second Chance Dog Training program.
"He learned how to sit, down, stay, respond to his name, not jump on people," said Hoult.
Sparky did so well with basic obedience training that he was selected for advanced training. He received his certification as a police therapy dog in January, one year after the accident.
"It's actually not very uncommon for dogs to still be sweet and friendly, even when they have a traumatic experience," said Hoult. "They're incredibly resilient."
Sparky's handler, Officer Ryan Fields, is hoping the dog will provide comfort to school children one day, as well as victims and their families at crime scenes.
"Unfortunately, in the job that we do, we come across a lot of negative, so I want to use Sparky at that moment to connect to the community in those hard time," said Fields.
People who have worked with Sparky said it is rewarding to see how far he has come, and they believe he'll be a valuable asset to the community.