Dog day afternoons

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore - As a kid growing up in the 1970’s near a small town in Wyoming, the only police dog we had was good ol’ Max, a middle-aged mutt owned by the Police Chief. Max often became the prime suspect at the annual summer park picnic if a couple hotdogs went missing. 

Back then, the town's weekly Police Log printed in the newspaper was typically a recap of citations and fines for out-of-state drivers speeding through our one-stoplight town of 1,200 or law-breaking locals caught fishing in the lake with creamed corn.  

Fast forward in time and nowadays the Police Department Logs in a small town like Cottage Grove is no laughing matter.

Our recent calls for service include: an assault at a grocery store, menacing with a weapon, an arrest of someone with multiple outstanding warrants, a missing person, criminal mischief, a drug overdose, and shattered windows targeting two businesses and a church.

The accumulating stress on police officers who often face troubling situations and are sometimes required to make split second life or death decisions takes a toll.

Enter Fuji, a comfort and wellness dog who joined the Cottage Grove Police Department on May 30. She is a yellow labrador retriever and will turn two years old in a few weeks. Fuji came from a breeder in California, but was born in Mexico. She received obedience training up north in Scappoose, Ore. Fuji will be officially sworn in as an emotional support animal (ESA) at the City Council Meeting on August 14.

The idea to acquire Fuji came from Interim Chief Jeff Groth. Her main job is to provide friendly love and companionship as she walks the halls of the department, but also, to be a calming and grounding influence for officers who return from calls of an especially dangerous or traumatic nature, such as vehicular crashes or fatalities.

Captain Shawn Marsh is Fuji’s handler and caregiver, he recently joined the department on May 1, after receiving a call from Interim Chief Jeff Groth. 

Captain Marsh had recently retired from 26 years of service in the Eugene Police Department, but answered the call to help the department through its transitioning process and search for a permanent Chief. Captain Marsh brings a wealth of experience as he served in supervisor positions for EPD’s traffic team and, later, the crisis negotiation team.  

Captain Marsh’s primary tasks involve the police department's operations and administration. He states that the “Biggest focus is on a positive change of culture – getting back to the standard of ‘best practices’ in law enforcement, but also more community interaction and involvement.” 

Marsh goes on to note that the history of policing has always been linked to being a partner within a community; in essence, the notion that leading by de-escalation, compassion, and empathy with a focus on prevention helps crime rates go down.

Interim Chief Groth, Captain Marsh, and Fuji are key components of setting the groundwork for a renewed department that internal staff and the community at large can be proud of.  

Although Fuji’s main role is to serve in the office, she recently attended graduation ceremonies with Captain Marsh at Al Kennedy and Cottage Grove High Schools. 

She also went along when Captain Marsh served as judge recently for the Suitcase Art contest displayed in the window of The Crafty Mercantile on Main Street.

At some point, Captain Marsh plans to revive the “Coffee with a Cop” meetings and Fuji will no doubt be by his side. It’ll give me a chance to ask one more question: Is it legal to fish with creamed corn int his county? Stay tuned, folks!