URBANA, Ill. – There’s a new Kirby in town.
The University of Illinois Police Department’s newest therapy dog – still a puppy – got his official name in March after Illinois Student Government representatives submitted nominations and community members were polled on four name options.
After submitting just over 1,000 votes in total, more than half of voters preferred Kirby.
Kirby is named after the well-known Kirby Avenue, an arterial road through campus bordered by iconic Fighting Illini athletic facilities like Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center. Kirby Avenue is a center of activity for students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors during events like home football games, Homecoming, the Illinois Marathon, Fourth of July Celebration and other community-oriented events.
And Kirby the therapy K9 plans to live up to that community-oriented namesake.
“I think it’s very important to have part of our community, which is the new therapy dog, be part of the campus community,” said University Police Chief Alice Cary. “And taking ownership of that name is something that kind of connects our agency with the students.”
Kirby, a 7-month old Samoyed, is the fifth University Police therapy K9, joining Archie, Lollipop, Rosie and Winston. Therapy K9s are used in outreach programming and during mental health crisis calls. But one of the most common ways that campus community members is in unplanned, informal interactions with police officers on the street.
“He is very easy to love on,” said University Police Detective Tara Hurless, who is K9 Kirby’s handler. “We’re working on sitting, shaking, laying down. I’d love to teach him to hug. He’s still young, I think he’s still got a lot of learning to do. But he’s got a great personality to interact with.”
Kirby will get his official therapy K9 training around the beginning of the Fall 2022 semester, but he’s so laidback and calm that he has already been around some public outreach events.
His relaxed personality mirrors that of his parents. Through a mutual friend on the Champaign Police Department, Hurless connected with a local breeder whose dogs recently had a litter of puppies.
“The mom and dad of that litter are very good with one of her friends who has a child who is autistic,” Hurless said. “So, she thought it would be really cool to donate one of the puppies to our therapy K9 program.”
The University Police therapy K9s are available by request, and community members are likely to see them out on walks with officers in campus locations.
“Therapy dogs are a great community engagement tool for one,” Cary said. “But additionally, they bring great relief for stress and stressful situations. Students oftentimes experience stress during midterms or final exams, and all the pressures that are associated with being a student. The dogs bring in a comforting atmosphere.”