At Highland Canine Connect, we are proud and privileged to be able to make a difference to the communities we serve. Whether we are providing a service dog to a family in need, or delivering our community-focused initiatives (such as our School Reading Program), we are truly fortunate to help create some amazing human-canine connections.
In late 2021, our team had the pleasure of delivering Kora, a Goldendoodle trained as a therapy dog, to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office in western North Carolina.
In her role as a therapy dog, Deputy K-9 Kora has a wide remit! She is on hand (or should that be paw?) to help support staff at the Sheriff’s Office, comfort victims of crime, and engage in community visits and activities.
K-9 Kora’s handler is Detective Debbie LeCroy. Whether on-duty or off-duty, Kora is faithfully by Det. LeCroy’s side in a variety of situations.
We recently spoke with Det. LeCroy to learn about Kora’s work – and to understand the difference Kora has made to both the Sheriff’s Office and the wider community in Buncombe County.
Kora’s day-to-day activities
To begin with, we asked Det. LeCroy about a typical ‘day in the life’ for Kora. We quickly learned that, as a therapy dog working within the Sheriff’s Office, there really is no such thing as a typical day! Kora’s daily activities vary depending on the needs of the department, or the events taking place within the Buncombe Co. community.
“As a detective with the Sheriff’s Office, wherever I go, Kora goes,” explains Det. LeCroy. “She’s very active in the community. We have gone into schools to interact with children. We have taken her into hospitals. We bring her along to other events. As soon as we are around a group of people, Kora instinctively knows what to do – she loves to sit there, pose for photos, and be loved on by everybody.
Basically, Kora’s role within our community is to give them love – and she loves everyone. This is a new way of policing for us, and it really helps to soften the interactions between law enforcement and the community.”
As Det. LeCroy outlines, Kora is also there for the community in stressful situations.
“Animals can make a hugely positive difference to almost any situation, and we deal with some of the toughest, most stressful situations you can imagine.
But when you’re dealing with a crisis, or an unfortunate incident – for example, if your home has been broken into, or you have been involved in a car accident, or lost a loved one – Kora’s presence seems to be able to lighten the trauma just a little.
One person in the community told me that they don’t even have to interact with Kora, but just seeing Kora walk by from a distance actually makes her smile. She changes the whole atmosphere wherever she goes, which is pretty amazing.”
In addition to attending schools, hospitals and other events, Det. LeCroy also says that plans are in the works for ‘Koffee with Kora’ events, where K-9 Kora and her colleagues will visit a variety of different coffee shops to discuss local issues with communities.
Kora’s work isn’t just public-facing
The benefit of Kora’s therapy work isn’t just felt by those in the community – it helps the Sheriff’s Department internally, too.
A large part of Kora’s role is to provide comfort and support to Det. LeCroy’s colleagues who may be experiencing stress or feeling overwhelmed from the obvious rigors involved in their daily work. Kora’s impact has been almost immediate – and has brought several benefits to her team.
“The Sergeant has said that Kora has definitely brought our unit closer together,” explains Det. LeCroy. “She is definitely an important member of our team in that regard.
Kora is a very active member of our team. There are quite a few detectives in my office – whenever Kora hears the door to our office open, she immediately gets up and greets anybody that walks in. If you don’t greet her, she will literally follow you to your cubicle until you finally say hello to her! Occasionally, during the day, she’ll set a toy in your lap, and she wants to play tug of war or have you throw the ball for her.
Kora goes with us everywhere – so if we’re getting ready to leave, it isn’t just me asking “Where’s Kora?” – it’s usually one of my colleagues asking that, making sure she’s with us and ready to go.”
Given the stressful nature of law enforcement work, Kora also provides invaluable support to her colleagues. She is trained to perform certain tasks that can alleviate stress, such as deep pressure therapy.
“Kora is very perceptive; she knows if you are struggling a little, or if you are feeling a little stressed. She can sense that. Once she recognizes that you need some extra support, she’ll go over to you and then take a nap under your desk.
She is trained to do deep compression therapy – so if you’re having a rough day, you can sit or lay on the floor, and she will give you a big old hug and help you to relax.
I remember on one occasion, one of my colleagues said he was in a horrible mood. But then he interacted with Kora, and everything changed. He told me that just having Kora around – being able to pet her and play with her – it changed his whole mood.”
Responsibilities - but rewards
As with any dog who has been trained for a specific purpose, it is vital to keep up with their training to ensure they continue to perform their duties successfully. For Det. LeCroy, that means maintaining Kora’s levels of socialization, mental stimulation and physical exercise, regardless of whether it is during work hours or outside of them.
“It’s not just about bringing a dog to work – this is a big responsibility. And when I get home, I can’t just put her straight in a crate. Kora’s training is ongoing, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. There is no break from her.
Of course, being a Goldendoodle, she needs to be brushed and groomed on a regular basis. Aside from that, I also take her into places like grocery stores and other busy places, so she’s comfortable in all environments.”
Det. LeCroy is also very active in maintaining Kora’s online presence, managing Facebook and Instagram profiles out-of-hours. Again, this is another way in which the community can engage with law enforcement (and vice versa) in a friendly, relaxed manner.
Despite the fact that Kora is a 24/7 commitment, Det. LeCroy describes the rewarding nature of working alongside her K9 partner.
“It’s a big responsibility, but I love it. Kora is amazing. She’s ready to go 100% of the time.
It’s the most rewarding job I have ever had, alongside an amazing, loyal partner.”
Working with Highland Canine Connect
Finally, we asked Det. LeCroy about her experience of working with the team at Highland Canine Connect.
“Erin [Purgason] has been so amazing. We didn’t just gain a four-legged friend and amazing member of our unit – I gained a friendship with Erin. I can’t even begin to tell you what she has done for me, our agency, and the community.
For Kora’s swearing-in ceremony, Erin literally brought six or seven dogs along, all wearing party hats.
The training facility Highland Canine has [in Harmony, NC] is second-to-none. It is a top-notch facility.
When I first spoke to Erin, I had no idea how much this was going to be, or what our options were, but she was so helpful and gracious. She gives 110% to everything she does, and she made the whole process so easy for us. I am so grateful for Erin and Highland Canine Connect’s help with everything they’ve done for us with Kora.”
We can’t wait to see the difference that Kora will continue to make in Buncombe County! Be sure to follow Deputy Kora on Instagram and look out in local media for future updates on her amazing work.
If you would like to volunteer with Highland Canine Connect, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us on (704) 500-8367, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our dedicated page.
Our programs are only possible thanks to the generosity of our supporters. If you wish to donate, please contact us on (704) 500-8367, email us at email@example.com, or visit our dedicated page.