Four-legged, curly-tailed Sgt. Fuzz is the city of St. Paul's newest police officer.

But Fuzz isn't your typical K-9. He's a comfort animal, a three-month-old furball charged with helping officers reduce stress.

"Sometimes you have to step away for two to three minutes and interact with something like a dog," said Senior Commander John Lozoya, head of the St. Paul Police Department's community engagement unit.

Police Chief Todd Axtell and volunteer reserve officer Kathryn Smith are credited with bringing Fuzz on the force. They got the idea after Axtell started bringing his own dog, a silver Labrador named Stella, to work on occasional Fridays. After observing Stella's stress-reducing powers, they cooked up the idea of adding a permanent therapy dog, helping officers manage what Axtell calls a "high-stress professional" job.

Soon Sgt. Fuzz will embark upon an orientation that includes learning to sit and lie on command, handling different noises and keeping his paws off people who pet him.

But first, Smith said, he'll need to master potty training.

In the meantime, Fuzz's official role remains strictly internal. He spends his workdays trotting the halls of police headquarters near downtown St. Paul, brightening the days of every officer he meets. This summer he'll assume additional duties for the department, appearing as an ambassador at select events including the weekly Safe Summer Nights barbecue.

"A big fluff ball running around like that, I think it's going to be a magnet for the kids," predicted Lozoya.

So why isn't a soft, cuddly fellow like Fuzz considered a bona fide therapy dog? For that, Smith explained, Fuzz needs to be at least a year old. At that point, if he passes his exams, he'll become a certified therapy dog, working with crime victims and visiting children's hospitals.

High-ranking pooch

A German shepherd mix, a newborn Fuzz was abandoned in the snow this winter along with his mother and litter mates.

An experienced dog trainer, Smith was approached by a Mankato rescue group about helping Fuzz and his family. She met the dog when he was just days old, noticing something special about him — specifically, his calm demeanor with people.

The rescue group originally named the dog Tyson. But Smith knew it wouldn't stick when an officer made a crack referencing boxer Mike Tyson. "Don't bite my ear!" said the deputy, petting the dog.

The department quickly settled on Sgt. Fuzz — a playful reference to the slang term for police, but also a nod to his adorably fuzzy brown fur.

Every good police dog needs a bandanna. As Smith was crafting one for Fuzz, she opted to add a patch showing off his rank.

"He over-ranks me," she noted.

Yes, a smitten police force has already talked of promoting the dog. "To be a commander," Smith joked, "you have to be potty-trained first."

Christopher Shea is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.