The U.S. Capitol Police has enlisted new members to its ranks — but their main job isn’t to protect lawmakers.
Instead, the four-legged USCP members are there to support its 2,300 officers, many of whom are still struggling in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol and a deadly car attack in April.
Lila, a 3-year-old black lab, joined the USCP in June. She is one of two support dogs that USCP wellness support staff uses to keep spirits up in the Capitol.
Lila’s handler, Dmitri Louis, says her temperament made her a perfect fit for the new job.
“We just try to hit different divisions, different shifts to just allow anyone to kind of play with her, so anxiety gets lowered, emotions get managed,” Louis said. “She puts people in a different place.”
Lila didn’t start her training with law enforcement in mind. She was initially in training to become a seeing-eye dog. However, she has one weakness that she couldn’t overcome.
“Her kryptonite is squirrels,” Louis said. “That became an issue. So she went into a different kind of training to be very comfortable with groups of people, to be comfortable with crowds. Training that made her more suited for what she does right now.”
Lila and her coworker, a four-year-old yellow lab named Leo, have made friends with Capitol police officers and lawmakers alike.
“We’ve all had bad days. You’ve had bad days. I’ve had bad days. The minute a dog walks into the room for even a minute, you kind of forget about it all,” USCP Officer Jeffrey Albanese said. “Those bad feelings and maybe some of those thoughts you’re having, they go away.”
“There’s, of course, the Harry Truman quote that, ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,'” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pennsylvania. “There’s all kinds of research on how dogs lower your blood pressure; they’re just so lovely and warm. And it seemed like a great addition to the Capitol, where tensions are high under the best of circumstances.”
“No one can really see Lila without getting this big old grin on their face because she’s just a lovable dog,” said USCP Officer Caroline Edwards. “That’s kind of what service dogs do, is they just relieve that tension you’ve been holding in.”