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Pawficer Vinny Duke: Therapy Pooch Celebrated by Community and Police Department

Folks gathered on the Highland Park Police Department on Saturday morning to rejoice the birthday of Pawficer Vinny Duke, the department’s four-legged friend who joined the team in February 2022.

Since then, this loving therapeutic pup has provided unconditional love and support to the officers and community alike. 

Police Chief Lou Jogmen explained how the thought to enlist a therapeutic dog stemmed from the department’s concerning observations.

“Over the past several years, mental health calls have been exploding,” Jogmen said. “There appears to be so many more people struggling as of late. After I learned of a company that trained rescue dogs to turn into therapeutic pets, I used to be so drawn to the thought.” 

The organization is Florida-based Paws & Stripes, which pursues a mission to pair strays with inmates, giving each man and canine a probability for a brand new starting. The inmates becomes the dogs’ handlers, undergoing a selected training to assist the dogs turn into certified therapeutic animals.

As Jogmen began to do his homework, he learned of a stray pup named Duke, saved by the Brevard County, Florida Police Department and delivered to Paws & Stripes. 

“I first met Duke online,” Jogmen shared. “Even virtually, I had an easy reference to him and my officers felt the identical.” 

After the department received approval from local officials, it was Officers Darren Graff and Michael Lodesky who made the journey to Florida, underwent a 40-hour training course and returned to the Highland Park Police Department as Duke’s official handlers.

There’s little doubt about it: A dog like Vinny Duke helps bridge the gap between police and the people. It’s a real win-win for us all and he deserves to be celebrated.”

Lou Jogmen, Highland Park police chief

Upon the pup’s arrival, officers introduced him to the community and sought their suggestions for a reputation that will connect him to his latest environment.  After much anticipation, it was announced that Duke would now be named Pawficer “Vinny” (giving a nod to Ravina) Duke. 

Soon, Vinny Duke became a welcomed latest friend in Highland Park, making his rounds at local schools, senior citizen homes and other public venues. He was a comfortable addition to the neighborhood, but Vinny Duke’s real talents went far beyond being cute. Officers quickly learned that Vinny Duke had a skillset that no man could match.

“We were called to a house where two boys were fighting and one in all the boys became completely distressed, locking himself inside a dryer and refusing to return out,” Jogmen recalled. “Despite all of our attempts, it was Vinny Duke who coaxed the young man to return out, comforted by the pure love and luxury that only Vinny Duke can provide.”

Officer Graff recalls the day he was called to a neighborhood school where a woman climbed to the highest of the constructing, threatening to leap. Graff sat near the girl with Vinny Duke, until she finally got here to pet the dog. The young lady took his leash and allowed the pup to guide her to the ambulance. 

“That day could have turned out very in a different way if it hadn’t been for Vinny Duke,” Graff said. 

Then got here the tragedy that has endlessly impacted Highland Park and its cops — July 4, 2022. Vinny Duke was the grand marshal of the Independence Day parade and similar to every other officer and paradegoer, he was having fun with the celebratory morning until shots rang out and the world got here to a halt. 

“Vinny Duke was needed in the times, weeks and months that followed — greater than we could’ve ever imagined,” Jogmen shared. “He got here to each vigil and each funeral. Vinny Duke marched in last yr’s (remembrance walk). Once more, Vinny Duke gave our community and our officers the style of support that all of us needed so badly during that tragic time.”

Jackson Burnell, 11, (son of reporter Alexa Burnell) pets the guest of honor Vinny Duke.

Lodesky added, “Vinny Duke was a godsend during those days after the parade. We would have liked him, our community needed him. He gave us a lot comfort after the parade and continues to accomplish that each day.”

In his short time on the department, Vinny Duke has provided countless advantages. Graff has now taken Vinny Duke into his home, alongside his wife and young children. An animal lover through and thru, Graff is especially bonded to Vinny Duke, grateful for the canine’s ability to supply calm during incomprehensible situations. 

“Vinny Duke is such an excellent source of comfort to so many, especially children. It’s heartbreaking when we now have to interview a young child who has been a victim of abuse, but one way or the other, their story is simpler to inform with Vinny Duke by their side,” Graff shared. 

Jogmen added, “There’s little doubt about it: A dog like Vinny Duke helps bridge the gap between police and the people. It’s a real win-win for us all and he deserves to be celebrated today.”

And with that, the gang sang a cheerful round of “Pleased Birthday.” Graff’s wife and young daughters happily gave him a canine-friendly cake, allowing Pawficer Vinny Duke to take pleasure in the glory of being among the many heroes in a small town. 

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