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UNC Police has a new team member, and his salary is paid in Fruit Loops and belly rubs.

Franklin, a two-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, is an assistance dog with a specialty in crisis response working alongside officers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to support individuals experiencing stress or trauma.

“When he puts his vest on, he knows he’s on duty,” said patrol officer Ray Rodriguez, who trains and cares for his canine colleague.

Together, Rodriguez and Franklin respond to high-stress situations across campus, visiting everyone from hospital patients to crime victims. Their interventions facilitate mental, emotional and physical healing in a wide variety of crisis situations.

But while Franklin is trained to respond to emergencies, he also provides emotional support to students with test anxiety and the everyday stress of college life.

“When I came to campus, I met a lot of students who were facing challenges and who were really stressed out,” Rodriguez said. “I thought it would be a huge benefit to the University and to the police department to have one of these dogs.”

So he reached out to paws4people, a Wilmington-based nonprofit organization that places trained assistance dogs with people in need. At paws4people, where the dogs choose their handlers, Franklin picked Rodriguez right away.

In the past six weeks, the police duo has done eight interventions including helping an employee who lost a parent unexpectedly, assisting a community member who experienced a mini-stroke and relaxing a group of students preparing for final exams.

“[Paws4people] is going to use UNC-Chapel Hill as a model for other universities,” Rodriguez said. “I think you’re going to see a lot more campuses and police departments doing the same thing. These dogs provide such a service to the community.”

Franklin has already made an impact with students and faculty members on campus, but Rodriguez remains the pup’s No. 1 fan.

“I can’t say enough about him,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone who sees him just loves him. He’s absolutely amazing at what he does.”

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