Police dogs are nothing new — but a bunny in uniform is something that sound more like a character in an animated children’s movie than real-life recruit.
“We would like to introduce Wellness Officer Percy,” wrote police department in Yuba City, California in a recent Facebook post, sharing a picture of a brown and white bunny rabbit in a tiny K9 police harness. “Officer Percy lounges at the police department during the day and is a support animal for all.”
Also known as “Officer Hops,” Percy is a part of the department’s recent focus on promoting mental health support for their staff. He serves as an outlet for stress when he is in the office, and as a friendly face when he is out visiting in the community.
“Our wellness program promotes the importance of prioritizing mental and physical health, providing tools and resources to reduce stress and create a positive foundation for well-being,” said the department in their Facebook post.
Percy was found by Ashley Carson, a member of the police department, in the middle of a road last October. Carson took the rabbit to animal control once realizing he was domesticated, but he was never claimed, according to the department.
Newly-named after the road he was found on — Percy Avenue — the bunny was adopted by another staff member soon after.
Emotional support animals have become increasingly popular in recent years, with several studies reporting evidence of their health benefits, including the decrease of anxiety and depression in their owners.
A 2020 study found that petting an animal can boost cognitive and emotional brain activity, for example, while a 2022 study found that just 10 minutes with a therapy dog reduced pain in emergency room patients.
“Recognition of our mutually beneficial relationship with domesticated animals, and in particular companion animals, is ever evolving,” said Colleen Dell, a sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, via email. Dell has for years researched the relationships between humans and animals.
“When our team first started researching the impact of therapy dogs visiting with university students ten years ago, there was somewhat limited recognition of their potentially important role in human’s lives,” Dell said. “Today, therapy dogs are on many campuses across North America, and in spaces you would never have thought you would see (them), like a hospital emergency department.”
It’s important to keep in mind a support animal’s feelings too, Dell noted, as any human-animal relationship can be complicated. Picking up on body language is important to monitor their wellness — in the case of Percy, purring can signal a happy bunny, whereas pushed-back ears likely mean the opposite.
Percy’s new position could also help bring attention to the wider welfare of his species, which is often neglected, according to Dell.
“Bunnies are adored in North America for being cute, friendly and cuddly,” Dell said. “In face of what officers and others in the station may face in their jobs, this can serve as a nice counterbalance.”
“This is an excellent way to establish rapport with the community,” she added. “There is a strong message here to build upon, of respecting others, including animals.”