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Denver PD dog uses cancer survival story to help others on their worst day

DENVER — May 15 is National Police Dog Day, and a police dog in Denver with an inspiring story is comforting those who need it most.

The Denver Dream Center celebrated high school graduates with a party and a car show on Wednesday. The evening is considered one of their “vibe nights,” which is aimed toward young adults as a positive place to spend their time.

One of their special guests is a regular at the center. Outfitted with her therapy dog vest and a Denver Police Department badge, Shelby the black Labrador Retriever strutted around the celebration with her partner by her side.

“She is known everywhere we go. People remember her name, even if they’ve only met her once,” said Officer Teresa Gillian, Shelby’s handler. “She is our very first therapy dog that the department has… Therapy work is, it’s newer. It’s growing across the nation… She got to break that glass ceiling here in Denver.”

Shelby shows up to comfort people when they need it. She’s attended funerals, helped victims of crime and connected with youth.

“To be a positive moment while they’re processing the heaviness of what they’re going through is just incredible,” said Gillian.

When Shelby was only 2 years old, Gillian felt a small lump in her mouth.

“It was about the size of my thumbnail, and I took her in the next day. They did a biopsy, and it came back as cancer,” Gillian recalled. “The cancer was sarcoma in the mouth, and it was a very aggressive form of cancer. Had a life expectancy attached to it of six to 10 months… You just can’t really even process that.”

The cancer diagnosis was in 2021, not long after Shelby was sworn into the department. Gillian took Shelby to Colorado Animal Specialty & Emergency in Boulder for her veterinary care. After four rounds of radiation, Shelby has been cancer-free for a little over a year.

“Complete miraculous healing. There’s no more cancer in her mouth,” said Gillian.

The recovery allows Shelby to continue the work she was made for — comforting others on their worst days, from one survivor to another.

After a child interacts with Shelby, they receive a stuffed animal version of the K9, with a vest that says “You Matter.” The program is called Stuffies for Shelby.

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