(WASHINGTON) — In the nine months since the Jan. 6 attack, even as their physical injuries heal, some Capitol Police officers still do battle with unseen wounds and memories.
As part of their department’s efforts to assist with that healing, the agency has now added two “wellness dogs” to its health program.
ABC News spoke with two officers in that program who have supported each other, with help from Lila, a 3-year old black lab from California.
U.S. Capitol Police officer Jeffrey Albanese, a 14-year veteran, said his role on Jan. 6 was to make sure all emergency personnel who needed to be in the Capitol could enter.
But what haunts him is having listened to radio calls from officers in distress.
“Hearing the cries for help, hearing, ‘We need officers here, we need officers at this place.’ Just hearing your responses back, ‘This is all we have.’ So, I’d say, you know, for me that was profound,” Albanese said.
One of those who needed assistance was fellow officer Caroline Edwards, who is dealing with prolonged effects from the attack, including a traumatic brain injury.
She was working on the Capitol’s West Front, when she saw a crowd of about 200 protesters coming at her. As they came closer, they began tearing down fences and barricades, Edwards said, using them to attack her and her fellow officers.
She has struggled in the months since.
“You kind of have this, this guilt of like, ‘Am I, am I making this up?’ — because I can’t tell you know I can’t show in a tangible way that I’m injured, but you know I really have to tell people I’m not feeling good today,” Edwards said.
The “hardest part about having a traumatic brain injury is just the unseen injury part,” she added. “You kind of have to tell people yourself like, I’m not feeling good today, I gotta, I gotta stop you have to set your own boundaries which is it difficult for anybody, let alone a police officer.”
Edwards said it’s been hard being away from her fellow officers during her recovery. “The injury takes you out of that tight-knit police community that you kind of come to know and love, and you see everybody working, you see everybody, suffering, and you have to sit home and not be able to do anything about it.”
Thanks to a peer support group, she said, she knew her feelings of guilt were understood.
As they spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill, both Albanese and Edwards were joined on by their four-legged colleague.
In the past few weeks, the department has hired two new comfort dogs, Lila and Leo, to address trauma as well as support the long-term health and well-being of their employees.
Dogs on Capitol Hill aren’t a new concept; they are often tucked away in congressional offices, led on leashes held by staffers and lawmakers. On Fridays, they can be seen roaming the halls when Congress often isn’t in session.
Wellness Coordinator Dimitri Louis, who began working at the Capitol in 2016, and joined the police force full-time focusing on wellness and resiliency, said since Jan. 6 there’s been an increased demand for the program’s resources.
Soon after the insurrection, several service animals were brought to Capitol Hill by other support agencies, including neighboring police departments. Officers quickly noted their positive impact.
Louis, who wasn’t a dog person before meeting Lila, now calls her a blessing.
“She originally started off as a seeing-eye dog, but through her training, they realize how much she loves squirrels and that distraction can be an issue. So, she got retrained to be very comfortable around people around crowds and to be very very social,” he said.
Lila moved in with Louis in June. Her canine colleague, Leo, joined the police force just two weeks ago with the goal to “lower anxiety, bring smiles and improve the overall well-being of all our employees, both sworn and civil,” Louis said.
Every day for Lila looks different. Some days, members of the police force can request her. Other times, she comes by to greet fellow members of the force. And some days, she just hangs out with Louis as he works in his office. However, he said, she does work at least 40 hours per a week.
And much like many other dogs “she does love chasing squirrels, which sometimes can be a challenge. She loves chasing squirrels, she really just loves being around people. It’s awesome that for her temperament and her personality, She loves what she does for work,” he said.
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