Meet Heidi, the Yale Public Safety service dog
Handsome Dan has a new bestie.
Her name is Heidi and she’s a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever who has been wagging around campus for nearly a year with her partner, Yale Police Officer Rich Simons.
Heidi is a service dog; her sole job is to be a calming, comforting presence for students, staff, faculty, hospital patients, and the community at large. Yale was the first Ivy League school with a service dog as part of its police department. (Princeton has since adopted its own, Simons said.)
“All Heidi wants to do is make people happy and help them relax,” said Simons, a 28-year veteran of the Yale Police Department. “That’s what she does every day. Now she’s going to be a part of helping everyone come back to campus.”
For months, Heidi, who arrived on campus last September, has been a fixture at Yale COVID-19 vaccination clinics, helping settle nerves as people get their shots. She’s also worked with special needs children in nearby Hamden, visited with Yale College students celebrating a birthday far from home, and become a friendly fixture at downtown shops and businesses such as Claire’s Corner Copia.
Heidi even has her own business cards, with a color photo on one side and contact information on the other. Simons has also created a patch with Heidi’s picture on it and hands out “Team Heidi” stickers to people they encounter.
“I knew in my heart this was something good,” Simons said. “I’ve always wanted to help bridge that gap with the community and reach out to people — help them see Yale Public Safety in a new way.”
Decades ago when he joined YPD, Simons brought his two Rottweiler puppies to interact with students at Branford and Saybrook colleges. The pups were a big hit with the students, Simons recalled, and the experience stayed with him.
Then, just two years ago, Simons learned of an organization called Puppies Behind Bars (PBB). PBB trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans, first responders, and law enforcement. Dogs are specifically bred for the PBB program, raised and trained through donations, and selected for their temperament. Heidi completed more than 10,000 hours of training in socialization at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York, learning dozens of commands.
Simons brought the idea of getting a Yale service dog to Police Chief Ronnell Higgins, who embraced the notion. PBB not only donated Heidi to Yale, but also paid for specialized training for Simons to be Heidi’s handler.
Together, Heidi and Simons make the rounds across campus, romping through athletic fields, strolling around Old Campus, stopping into offices, and swimming in the pond at the Yale Golf Course.
And in case you’re wondering how Yale’s big dog on campus, Handsome Dan, gets along with Heidi — Simons said it’s all good.
“Are you kidding? They go to events together. They’re besties,” he said.
Need more Heidi? Check out her Instagram account ofcheidi_yalepd.