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UC San Diego Police Canine Program

Therapy dogs can enhance community well-being, strengthen bonds and promote mental health for everyone. These dogs can transcend boundaries and establish stronger relationships within and outside the police department. Therapy dogs provide emotional support to police department staff who cope with intense daily experiences. Typically, therapy dogs visit daycares, schools, rehabilitation centers and courtrooms; however, our therapy dogs will focus on providing support on campus and in various settings, ranging from scheduled events to daily walks through buildings and neighborhoods.

Police therapy dogs are relatively new, but with the increased emphasis on mental health wellness within our community, and for first responders, more police departments are implementing therapy dog programs. In a community service capacity, dogs can be a great icebreaker, helping police department employees to educate individuals about safety-related matters.

UC San Diego Police got its first therapy dog, Sandi, in May 2024. Rob Meza is Sandi's primary handler and caretaker.The department anticipates receiving a second dog in fall 2024 or winter 2025.

Role of Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs can significantly improve mood and overall well-being by providing psychological or physiological support. Research indicates that interaction with a therapy dog releases hormones, like oxytocin and serotonin, which improve mental health by relieving stress. The affection that therapy dogs give to people experiencing anxiety, trauma or mental illness provides therapeutic benefits.

The dogs provide comfort, wellness and emotional support at community engagement events and can be deployed following a critical or traumatic incident. Daily, they will help support police department staff just by being at the station.

Benefits for the Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs benefit from interactions that fulfill their natural instincts to provide comfort and support. Their engagement with people offers mental stimulation, socialization and exposure to diverse environments that enhance their adaptability. The variability of interactions makes them one of the most adaptable and unique working dogs.

Therapy Dog Training

UC San Diego’s dogs came from Althea Canines, which breeds and trains dogs specifically for therapy work. Technically they are considered “facility” dogs since they will only be assigned to one facility—UC San Diego.

Therapy dogs receive specialized training to interact with a variety of people while on duty. To ensure the most positive, productive experience for the therapy dogs and the community, training focuses on:

  • Temperament: Dogs reach the maturity to provide valuable service at adulthood, usually at one year old. Trainers evaluate behavior, socialization and suitability for the environment.
  • Obedience: Therapy dogs are trained to perform essential commands, such as sitting quietly, walking on a loose leash and interacting politely with people.
  • Specific skills: Therapy dogs involved in emotional support programs receive specialized training to provide comfort and companionship to individuals experiencing emotional distress or trauma.
  • Bonding: Handlers focus on building strong bonds with their dogs through daily practice sessions, long walks games and physical affection.
  • Certification: This process involves completing specific courses, passing behavior assessments and providing certificates of good health.

Police staff work and live with their canine partners. Handlers/Owners must meet set standards and actively participate in ongoing training.

Where to Meet Sandi

You can meet Sandi at various community events and during prescheduled meet and greets with campus departments and organizations.

While therapy dogs provide immense comfort and support, their availability can be limited due to schedules, commitments and rest periods.


Contact Rob Meza.