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Raising mental health awareness and raising spirits, a celebration for K9 officer

Yale University Police Department's “K9 Heidi” was top dog for a day.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — K9 Heidi, a 3-year-old lovable Labrador Retriever, was the center of attention just off the quad at Yale University in New Haven on Wednesday.

Heidi was part of an event sponsored by Dunkin and iHeartRadio to raise awareness for mental health and celebrate the work of “service” or “facility Dogs”.

Heidi is the first K9 to join the force at an Ivy League school – but not the last.

“We have dogs here from Princeton, Brown, Harvard, and Lehigh University,” said Officer Rich Simons, who is Heidi’s partner.

RELATED: Connecticut's service dogs provide support at home for tragedy 1,700 miles away

Simons, a 29-year veteran of the force, has been leading the charge to promote the work of dogs like Heidi and how they can provide for the community.

“Mental health, wellness, and support – these dogs have a way of reaching people and making people smile,” Simons remarked.

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Simons noted that eight service dogs from around the region came to Yale to celebrate, most of the K9 officers are graduates of the “Puppies Behind Bars Program”.

Puppies Behind Bars partners with prison inmates to train the dogs -- Heidi is a shining example of their work.

“After getting Heidi, I did presentations for the Princeton, Brown and Harvard [Police Departments] – they all got a dog because of Heidi,” Simons said.

MAKING AN IMPACT: The votes are in, here's the name of FOX61's NEADS service puppy

“To see so many other agencies adopt programs like this, or similar to this, I think it’s just better for everyone as a whole," said Middletown Officer Jay Bodell, who is partnered with "K9 Bear" the Black Lab. "It’s better for the community, it’s better for the police departments and I think we’re seeing that effect in Connecticut.”

Though not a K9 officer, “Handsome Dan” the Yale Bulldog also joined the party.

“In 29 years of policing this is my favorite day -- to have all these dogs and everyone coming here to enjoy this day,” Simons added.

To learn more about the “Puppies Behind Bars” Program click here.

Jimmy Altman is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at jaltman@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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