Howie, a Labrador retriever mix, has joined the Oak Park police department as a community service dog. Off. Joe Schejbal offers a warm welcome. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

The Oak Park Police Department has a handsome new officer with friendly brown eyes and sleek black hair flecked with gray. His compassionate personality makes him the type of guy anyone would want to bring home to meet the family – as long as they have no dog allergies.

The officer, or pawfficer, in question is Howie, a 21-month-old rescue dog, who has recently taken on the enviable occupation of community service dog within the Oak Park police department. And he’s already on track to receive an excellent performance review.

“He is the new shining star,” said Administrative Commander Kellie Murphy, who is charged with overseeing Howie’s care until a permanent service dog coordinator is chosen.

As community service dog, Howie’s main responsibility is to make people happy. He will join sworn officers in attending events around Oak Park to increase community engagement with the police department. 

“We want as many people to meet Howie as possible,” said Murphy.

His other job duties include assisting in officer wellness and helping department members who experience traumatic incidents, relieve their anxiety and raising serotonin levels by putting his bodyweight into snuggling, in a form of deep pressure therapy to relax a person’s nervous system. Howie carries out his responsibilities with enthusiasm. 

“He likes to do his job,” Murphy confirmed. 

Howie made his way to the Oak Park Police Department by way of SIT Service Dogs, an Illinois-based organization which trains and places service dogs. During his time with the organization, Howie underwent 1,250 hours of service training, including deep pressure therapy, according to the village of Oak Park. 

The majority of the dogs that go through SIT come from its own breeding program, but Howie was a rescue who came to the organization a couple months short of his first birthday. 

The department was inspired to get a community service dog after learning about Sage, the canine community cop with the Illinois State University Police Department.  Sage came from SIT as well, according to Murphy.

Howie’s home is in police station, located in the basement of village hall on Madison Street. He has his own room, as well as multiple beds and toys around the station. His favorite toy is a tennis ball. During the day, Howie likes to lie down under officers’ desks. 

Howie did not provide a comment but did give the reporter a kiss on the face. While the kiss was well-received in this particular instance, Howie is still being trained in workplace professionalism.

“No licks,” Murphy reminded him.   

He works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. A schedule dictates who takes Howie out on bathroom breaks, which occur three to four times during the day. He also goes out to exercise at least twice a day.

Howie wears a special vest designating him as a community service dog. The uniform alerts people that he is safe to pet, unlike many other dogs that accompany police officers. When the vest comes off, Howie is off duty. 

“Once we take off his vest, we play ball with him in the hallways or we go out on the grassy knoll and run around with him,” said Murphy.

Murphy doesn’t know whether Howie, who is believed to be a Labrador retriever mix, was in a shelter prior. The Oak Park Police Department didn’t choose Howie. He was placed by SIT, but it’s safe to say everyone is pleased with the arrangement.

“Everyone loves Howie,” said Murphy, who agreed that Howie was the handsomest officer in the department.

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