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A husky dog lies on the floor.

No ordinary stray

RCMP officer rescues dog now training to help humans

Enzo has happily adjusted to his life in the National Capital Region and excelled in his training. Credit: Courtesy of Sophie Duranceau

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A dog rescued by an RCMP officer in rural Manitoba may soon give back as a therapy dog.

It was late fall when Cst. Lesley Steinke spotted a small, spray paint-marked husky near the RCMP's Poplar River detachment. It's been a common place for strays since 2017 when officers fed local animals after wildfires forced an evacuation.

The young dog didn't excel among the other canines and, when he stopped visiting, Steinke went looking for him.

"I had concerns the little guy wouldn't make it on his own if he didn't have any help," she says.

Steinke took him in and named him Casey, a tribute to her parent's dog with a similar attitude and appearance.

Helping hands

Steinke began fostering dogs last year in Poplar River, a small community located 400 kilometres north of Winnipeg. She credits her work with animals as a way to help manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — something she's faced since 2014.

"Bringing in rescues has been therapeutic for me," says Steinke. "Policing a remote detachment can enhance feelings of isolation. Animals definitely fill a companion void and the loyalty they share is reward enough for me."

While Casey was a great dog, Steinke was at a crossroads. If she kept Casey, she wouldn't have room for other rescues.

A new home

Casey went up for adoption and found a home with Sophie Duranceau, an Ottawa psychologist who researched first responders and PTSD during her doctorate and did clinical work at the RCMP Training Academy.

Casey matched what Duranceau wanted in a dog. She took him in and gave him a new name: Enzo.

Today, Enzo is a growing dog with a soft spot for children and an interest in squirrels.

He's excelled in obedience and therapy dog training and gets along with other dogs. Once he's through his "teenage years," he can be evaluated by an animal-assisted therapy program and hopefully join Duranceau's psychology practice.

"A dog can be an extra tool health professionals use," says Duranceau, explaining that animals can help reduce anxiety associated with seeking therapy and illustrate key concepts and emotions that psychologists discuss.

"Dogs instinctively mirror and react to emotions, which can help people recognize their own feelings and benefit our conversations," says Duranceau. "When someone discusses past traumatic experiences, having a dog present can make an inherently unpleasant process a little more pleasant."

Based on their experience with Enzo, both Duranceau and Steinke say his potential is promising.

"I'm grateful he'll be a dog with a job and he's perfectly suited for that," says Steinke.

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