Meet the newest deputies in the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, proudly wearing the badge along with their manes and tails.
The new recruits, Deputy Sammy and Deputy Gunner, are two therapy miniature horses from the Rocking Horse Ranch in North Carolina.
The ranch is collaborating with the sheriff’s office and East Carolina University to provide comfort to those suffering from traumatic incidents in a program dubbed “Building Bridges.”
“This program will build a bridge between the community and law enforcement,” said Lt. Kip Gaskins of the PCSO.
Sammy and Gunner stood side-by-side Thursday as they were sworn in, donning Gaskins’ old, re-altered uniforms stitched with their names.
Around Christmas time, Sammy and Gunner went to the Aiden Court Nursing and Rehabilitation Center with Gaskins to provide therapy for the residents.
Pleased with what he saw, Gaskins thought the equines would be an interesting addition to the Sheriff’s Office for various crime victims.
“It’s a way to get folks out of their shell, like we did there,” Gaskins said.
The program is to not only meet the adorable creatures, but also for the victims to open up and bond with detectives and police officers.
That’s when Gaskins and Malaika Albrecht, the ranch's executive director, joined forces.
Rocking Horse Ranch is an organization that provides horses to assist in therapy and activities for people with disabilities.
After rescuing Sammy and Gunner, Albrecht trained them in her own home for a few years. She took them to outings and exposed them to different places, people, sounds and situations to acclimate them.
Sammy and Gunner aced their training and became official therapeutic horses. They were taken to the ranch in August where they work full-time.
“You need a horse that can not only do it, but also love to do it,” Albrecht said. “Sammy and Gunner were perfect.”
Albrecht’s hope is to reach people who may not know this type of therapy is an option. Children and adult victims who suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD are just a few examples of conditions under which the horses work best.
“It’s a way to connect people back into joy and have more piece of mind,” Albrecht said.
East Carolina University is also helping with research into the new program.
Gaskins himself enjoys spending time with the horses after a long day of work.
“They help me when I’m dealing with stress, he says. “When I go by there, it’s kind of therapeutic for me.”
Gaskins says there is much more to law enforcement than taking reports and putting criminals in jail. His goal for the program is to start the process of building trust between law enforcement and civilians and to do "everything we can to assist in the recovery process."