The Millersville University Police Department (MUPD) recently recruited a furry friend to their squad. His name is Brooks, a friendly and outgoing 11-month-old Golden retriever ready to take on Millersville as the community’s K-9 trauma advocate. Since entering the police force during the Spring of 2023, Brooks has been transitioning into his role on campus.
“While interviewing for a position at MUPD, the department was already looking into getting a police dog,” explains Officer Ivan Gonzalez, Brooks’ primary handler. “We really wanted to make a difference in the community and support students by having a K-9 on campus. I was really excited about it as we exchanged ideas about working with a dog.”
Gonzalez has been an MUPD officer for two years, having previously served in Lancaster City for a year and a half. In March of 2023, the organization Alpha Pack K-9s reached out to Gonzalez and his colleagues with the opportunity to train and work with a trauma dog. After submitting an application, MUPD drafted their police dog policy, modeled after that at West Chester University – the only other PASSHE school with a service dog in its police department – in order to recruit and train a K-9.
Brooks was born on Oct. 18, 2022, in Mount Joy. When he was five months old, MUPD took him in as their K-9 after receiving basic obedience training at home. With the acquisition of Brooks, MUPD now has him under a six-year service contract.
He was given the birth name Bokeh, a term in photography referring to the blurry or out-of-focus area in a picture. When MUPD adopted him, they wanted to give him a name reminiscent of the university.
“We wanted to give our first trauma dog a name that symbolized Millersville,” explains Gonzalez. “So we came up with some options and let students vote since he would be serving them.”
The MUPD narrowed it down to two potential names for the fledgling pooch – Brooks for Brooks Hall, the former gymnasium and future home of the Lombardo School of Business, and Cooper for Cooper Baseball Field – and had students pick a name through an Instagram poll. With Brooks as the winning choice, Millersville’s trauma dog would be dubbed as such.
One of the most significant aspects of Brooks’ daily life, as well as one of his biggest challenges, is training. Although he has already learned basic commands, he is currently undergoing obedience training and will be for the next two years.
“A lot of my time we spend together on top of being on call is training him,” remarks Gonzalez. “We have monthly training sessions. Because of how gentle his breed is, he may also have a fear of objects and sounds, which we help him with getting adjusted to. We want him to be comfortable so he can comfort others. His ideal role is to be approachable and friendly to anyone, even obey the commands of others who approach him.”
Brooks primarily spends one-on-one time with Officer Gonzalez for training, however, he also comes in for two to three-hour sessions with his four siblings – Ballard, Hope, Grace, and Saja – who are also training to be K-9 and service dogs. This allows Brooks to remain close to his family while also bonding with dogs undergoing the same experiences. Although many of his responsibilities are similar to that of a service dog, his training is significantly more structured, and receives more hours of training.
“Because he is still in the puppy age, he also still has a puppy brain,” Gonzalez continues. “He gets very easily distracted, his attention is all over the place, and his energy level is high. My goal is for Brooks to be fully relaxed and focused.”
Since joining the police force in March, Brooks has already earned his good citizen certification from the American Kennel Club (AKC). Gonzalez anticipates that Brooks will continue to improve through training and practice so he can best serve the community. As the university’s trauma dog, Brooks is expected to be a victim advocate for those recovering from upsetting and dire experiences, providing comfort to those in stressful situations.
Although he does not “live the life of a pet,” as Gonzalez indicates, Brooks nonetheless seems to genuinely love his job.
Gonzalez elaborates, “He is a working dog, but he also gets to have fun by spending time with people and helping others. He enjoys patrolling around campus with me, but he also likes to spend time in our cruiser, which is accommodated just for him. His other safe spot is his kennel.”
When not on campus, Brooks lives with his primary handler Officer Gonzalez in Marietta. The riverside town allows him to spend time with Gonzalez and his siblings, who are scattered throughout Lancaster and Dauphin counties.
Gonzalez expresses interest in big plans for Brooks as he adjusts to life at Millersville. In addition to continuing his training, Brooks anticipates his first birthday and first full semester on campus. To commemorate his birthday, MUPD is partnering with the Millersville University Store to release merchandise featuring the beloved K-9’s likeness. The merch line is expected to drop in October, with a portion of proceeds going toward Brooks’ veterinary bills and care needs.
Brooks is a joyful sight on campus, but he is also on the job when in his K-9 vest. To be respectful of Brooks, Gonzalez recommends that those who meet him always ask to pet him, especially when he is training or on duty.
“He is a hard-working dog and has a job to do, but at the end of the day, his job is to serve and interact with people,” reassures Gonzalez. “He is a big fan of kids and other dogs, and if he is able to play with them it makes him even happier. Brooks loves to play fetch, as well as peanut butter and plush toys. Keep him away from buttons though – he loves to chew on those!”
As Gonzalez says, Brooks’ job is to “be there for students and for you.”
Those who would like to learn more about Brooks and donate to support him may do so by logging on to www.millersville.edu/pdtraumadog. Readers can also stay updated on Brooks by following him on Instagram at @brooks_mupd.