Emotional support dog Rocky helps uplift spirits at Ventura County Jail

VENTURA, Calif. (KABC) -- One dog is now making a very big difference for inmates and staff at Ventura County Jail.

Rocky, a Labrador retriever, was trained to sniff out narcotics for the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. However, it soon became clear to his handlers that Rocky preferred playing fetch to sniffing out drugs. The solution?

Rocky has now transitioned into the county's first emotional support-therapeutic K-9.

"He has just proven to already be an asset to our program," said Deputy Myron Bennett of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. "These inmates haven't even seen dogs in a long, long time and even just the mere sight of a dog has kind of shown improvement in their behavior."

The sheriff's office says many of the inmates currently suffer from mental health issues and Rocky is there to help.

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"Studies have found it lowers blood pressure, heart rate, depressions, anxiety -- all of those levels tend to decrease even at the mere sight of the dog," Bennett said. "We manage our vulnerable inmates suffering from mental illness. The Sheriff's Office saw that there was an exponential rise with inmates suffering from mental illness or substance abuse disorders."

Rocky is paid for with community donated funds. The K-9 has already had success with improving the mental health of the inmates.

"We wanted inmates to kind of come out and say hi to Rocky, and socialize with Rocky, and socialize with staff, have a good interaction with us, and it's working," Bennett said.

Not only is he having a positive impact on the health and well-being of inmates, but he's also become an important companion to jail staff.

"Our staff members, they see the dog and it changes their behavior," Bennett said. "It makes them want to be here. They want to come by and see the dog."

The inmates are encouraged to interact with the dog, and staff generally sees a noticeable improvement in behavior.

"It prevents us from getting into physical altercations with these inmates. That's not the goal, that's not what we want to do," Bennett said. "We want to provide them with the necessary medical treatment that they need to get out of here, to be rehabilitated, to try to help them be reintegrated with society after they get out of jail."

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