Hello, Dolly: Zionsville’s newest hire is town therapy dog


Everyone has heard of the town crier. But in Zionsville, there’s a town barker.

In March, Mayor John Stehr officially introduced Zionsville’s first town dog, Dahlia, a 5-month-old Australian Labradoodle, who goes by the nickname Dolly.

Dolly, including Canine Good Citizen training from the American Kennel Club, was donated to the Town of Zionsville at a value of about $20,000. But Dolly’s actual worth is measured in more than dollars, according to town officials.

“I’ve seen other municipalities do this, where they have therapy dogs for their employees and for people to come in. Her job is to lower everyone’s blood temperature and make everybody just calm and happy, and she does a very good job at that,” Stehr said. “We joke about calling her the chief morale officer, but that’s really what she does. She’s spent time in schools and hospitals and a significant amount of time with trainers.”

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Dolly, an Australian Labradoodle, works alongside Zionsville Mayor John Stehr. (Photo by Marney Simon)

Dolly is much more than a town mascot or community ambassador. Handler Megan Ray, recreation coordinator for the Zionsville Parks & Recreation Department, said Dolly fills a need for support and assistance both at Town Hall and in the community.

“She also goes around to offices (at Town Hall) and people can take her into meetings,” Ray said. “She’ll be going into the police and fire stations very soon and she’ll be getting her ‘big girl’ next step-up certification as a therapy dog. So, hopefully she can assist, especially with kids. She’s very good with kids, she did a lot of her training at Eskenazi Health visiting some kids there.”

Dolly lives with Ray, her husband and two children and their senior dog full time.

The ultimate goal is for Dolly to serve as a true asset to Zionsville, where she will serve as a therapy dog for six to eight years once her certification from the American Kennel Club is complete.

“Hopefully, just getting her very involved in the community, not only for the mascot appeal, if you will, but also to really make a difference. She’s such a good girl,” Ray said. “It’s such a camaraderie, the attitudes of everyone the second they see her. It’s just such a lightness. I think it’s bringing not only the employees of Town Hall together, but I think eventually the entire community once she does more and more outreach.”

Planned outreach includes Parks & Rec events such as the Fall Festival parade and park and play events.

“We would love to do some sort of children’s reading group with her,” Ray said. “We’ve already been talking to the library about that because there’s a story walk at Elm Street Green, and then just expanding on that.”

Ray said when Dolly achieves her therapy dog certification, she’ll be available to police and fire departments to assist with children in the event of accidents or incidents, or if a resident in town simply needs a calming presence.

“That’s to come, because right now she’s still a puppy and we have that training to continue with, but she’s doing a really good job at being the chief morale officer which is a very special thing that I’ve not seen before,” Ray said.

As for her actual duties, Stehr said dogs like Dolly assist with the emotional well-being of employees and residents of Zionsville.

“She creates a calming presence,” Stehr said. “People find that if there is a calming presence like that, where you just pet her, talk to her, it lowers your stress level too, because she is so present and loving with everybody that she meets. I think it just creates a really nice atmosphere.”

Dolly has her own calendar just like any other employee. So far, she’s made appearances at the State of the Town meeting March 27, with employees of public works and at the April 8 eclipse event at Mulberry Fields.

Updates on Dolly’s adventures and updates are posted to the town’s social media accounts, facebook.com/ZionsvilleIN and instagram.com/zionsvillein.

Dolly is short for Dahlia. Dolly’s name comes from Zionsville’s nickname, The Dahlia City. (Photo courtesy of Town of Zionsville)

Dolly the Town Dog Facts

Name: Dahlia, after Zionsville’s nickname “The Dahlia City”

Nickname: Dolly

Breed: Australian Labradoodle

Title: Chief Morale Officer

Fur: Hypoallergenic and non-shedding

Markings: Tuxedo coat

Age: Five Months

Caretaker: Megan Ray

Next appearance: Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library Whitestown Branch grand opening at 2 p.m. April 20 at 6310 Albert S. White Dr., Whitestown