You may have seen stories about community policing and working comfort dogs. Working together as amazing K9 duo’s breaking down barriers and spreading peace, comfort, and joy.
Here, you’ll meet just a few of the many teams already making change in our state. Sergeant Cheney and Officer Tildy from the UConn Public Safety Department, Officer Durette and K9 Indy from the Naugatuck Police Department, Officer Bodell and K9 Bear from the Middletown PD, Officer Simons and Officer Heidi from Yale Public Safety Department, Officer McClelland and Officer Chase from Groton PD, and Officer Yabrosky and K9 Addison from Torrington PD.
The town of Groton is proud to have Community Policing Officer Heather McClelland and her K9 partner, a 2-year-old yellow lab, Officer Chase.
Officer McClelland shares, “Going through training at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, working with the puppy raisers (inmates) and now working with Chase in the community, has shown me what a great opportunity we have to make a positive impact on people. What might have been a mundane call or interaction, is now so much easier and enjoyable. People light up when they meet Chase, and they actually seek us out in the community.”
Officer Chase was trained and donated by Puppies Behind Bars (PBB), which trains prison inmates to raise service dogs not only for law enforcement, but for for wounded war veterans, first responders, and explosive-detection canines.
“Puppies enter prison at the age of 8 weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for approximately 24 months. As the puppies mature into well-loved, well-behaved dogs, their raisers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it.” (via PBB).
In fact, Puppies Behind Bars has trained and donated K9 Bear to Officer Bodell, a 2-year-old black lab and sibling to Officer Chase, K9 Indy a 2-year-old black lab to Officer Durette, Officer Heidi a 2.5-year-old yellow lab to Officer Simons, and K9 Addison a 1.5-year-old yellow lab to Officer Hannah Yabrosky.
Patrolman Durette says, “Indy has changed the way I see my job because he has proven to me that as police officers we serve and protect our communities in many capacities. Comforting and showing compassion to a victim involved in any form of a traumatic event is just as important as catching the bad guy.
Officer Yabrosky from Torrington has the newest addition of pups from Puppies Behind Bars. She says of her new partner, “Having Addison with me on patrol has been a huge asset to not only me, but our entire shift. Addison is a soft, cuddly dog that allows people to relax, even just a little, when they are going through their hardest days. Addison starts many conversations that simply would not happen if it wasn’t for him.”
This new way of policing is also gaining traction at our schools, colleges, and universities. Just ask Sergeant Justin Cheney of the UConn Public Safety Department and Officer Richard Simons from Yale Public Safety.
Sgt. Cheney spends his time on the UConn campus with Officer Tildy, a 5-year-old yellow lab/golden retriever cross breed donated by Canine Companions for Independence.
He says, “ Tildy allows me to connect with so many more students, staff, faculty, and various groups on the UConn campuses. She provides our community outreach unit with more opportunities to build trust and support with campus groups, sports teams, and other campus partners.”
Officer Simons is paired with 2.5-year-old Officer Heidi for the Yale Public Safety Department, and you can find them not only in and around the campus but all around town and even at Yale New Haven Hospital.
“The inclusion of Heidi as part of the Yale Public Safety/Police Department has changed the way we have been able to reach our Yale community, as well as the broader New Haven community. I am much more focused on community engagement and interaction with Heidi bridging the gap between the police department and the community.”
Officer Jay Bodell is hoping to make the same impact with his new partner, K9 Bear in Middletown. Bodell is even bringing his partner into his volunteerism with the Connecticut Special Olympics and the Connecticut Law Enforcement Torch Run. In addition, The Hometown Foundation is helping to fund K9 Bear in his role with Officer Bodell in their community policing role.
K9 Officers are vital to police work in so many ways. The addition of working comfort dogs with officers provides an opportunity for law enforcement individuals to be seen in their community, connect with children and adults in a non-threatening situation, and they are able to educate the public about their jobs, how they help both citizens and even other officers and first responders.
Officer McClelland speaks about Officer Chase within in the Groton PD, “I believe she has made a difference with our officers, dispatchers, and other first responders. Chase provides an outlet to just unwind, play fetch, do some fun commands, or just get a quick snuggle. I also think she’s been a bridge from our department into the community, not just for me, but for my fellow officers.”
And Officer Durette offers insight into the role of K9 Indy at the Naugtuck PD and First Responders in town, “Indy has done more to benefit local first responders in the first year we have had him than I could have ever imagined. But he has also been called out by not only our PEER support team to provide comfort and assistance to a first responder, but also requested by other local first responders such as fire, EMS, and communications during their time of need for one of their own.”
The Torrington PD is feeling the love too, “I get to watch officers, as well as the public, smile when they see Addison come in the room. He spreads nothing but positivity and happiness wherever he goes,” says Officer Yabronsky.
Sergeant Cheney had this to say, “Tildy brings a significant amount of officer wellness within our department. She is very well received by officers and dispatchers and is constantly sought out by them. She is a big contributor to our department’s morale and overall image.”
At a recent on campus event at UConn, all the teams in this article gathered for a Mental Health Check In day with students, just one of the many pop up events you will find these teams working together to support each other and community policing.
One of the groups on site, the Jordan Porco Foundation for suicide prevention saw the clear benefit of involvement, and organizers said that the students became comfortable talking about mental health and appreciated being involved with the dogs.”
The latest trend in community policing may just be a permanent addition to local and state agencies. Comfort dogs working behind the badge making a ‘pawsitive’ difference in their communities, one wagging tail at a time.
Photographed by Carla Hernandez Ten Eyck