The Day – Therapy Dogs Gather for Cops & Comfort Dogs Conference in Groton


More than 30 dogs and their handlers take part in an event organized by the Groton Town Police Department and the UConn Police Department.

Taylor hartz

Groton – You wouldn’t expect to see a plump little puppy or a big, cozy Saint Bernard wearing a police uniform and badge.

But police dogs of all breeds, sizes, colors and down levels were pictured at Mystic on Thursday, where officers and their four-legged partners came from up and down the East Coast to attend a therapy dog ​​conference. in the police.

These dogs, unlike their crime-fighting K-9 officer counterparts, do not sniff bombs or stalk fleeing suspects. Most of the time, they lie on the ground and let people stroke them.

They are trained as therapy dogs, or comfort dogs, for the benefit of people who have suffered trauma. They are taken to police departments, prisons and courthouses to help people from all walks of life feel more comfortable working with law enforcement. They work in schools where they help children who have experienced trauma to open up and feel more relaxed. And they fly all over the map to scenes of gruesome tragedies – from mass shootings to bombings – to help first responders and victims feel a little more at home.

Over 30 therapy and comfort dogs came together for “Cops and Comfort Dogs,” a conference hosted by the Groton Town Police Department and UConn Police Department.

Clarence, a 160-pound Saint Bernard from Greenfield, Massachusetts, was originally the law enforcement therapy dog ​​role in New England. Now retired, “Officer Clarence” was helping his owner, Deputy Chief William Gordon, overcome his own post-traumatic stress disorder in 2012, when 26 students and teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

A friend of Gordon’s friend, who is a federal law enforcement officer, went to Sandy Hook and saw how distraught the first responders were about the scene they encountered at the ‘school. He was aware of the work Gordon was doing with Clarence and asked the duo to come down.

Clarence spent days with first responders in Newtown, lying down and letting himself be stroked, sometimes offering his paw to hold, Gordon said.

“That’s really all we do,” he said, watching Clarence as the dog put its paw on a young boy with Down’s syndrome who stroked his face. “I just hold the leash and let the human have all the interactions they need with them.”

Gordon said the purpose of bringing in a police comfort dog is usually to help a person immediately go through the aftermath of a traumatic event.

“When a person has just experienced a traumatic event, they experience acute stress and can be trapped in a cycle of thoughts about a traumatic event over and over again. What we do is inject a positive into a negative. “said Gordon.

“It’s like a bad rainstorm,” he said. “You have all these dark clouds, but all of a sudden the dark clouds break and you see those first rays of sun and a rainbow. You don’t remember the dark clouds, but you still remember that rainbow. We provide the rainbow. . “

Most recently, Clarence and Gordon traveled to Washington, DC, to comfort United States Capitol Police, members of Congress and other Capitol Hill employees in the wake of the Capitol Uprising on January 6. Clarence, who is for the most part retired now and has been replaced by a young St. Bernard named “Officer Donut”, received a hug and a kiss from President Joe Biden.

In Groton, Constable Heather McClellan of the Groton Town Police Department lives and works with the Town Police Therapy Dog, a yellow lab named Chase.

“These dogs are for our community and for our first responders,” McClellan said, noting that Chase comforts victims of crime as often as she helps firefighters or paramedics.

“The goal is to connect with our community and have conversations with them that we might not be able to have without the presence of these dogs,” she said. “Whether it’s helping victims to report or providing comfort to first responders like firefighters, rescuers and other emergency personnel, who are responding to difficult situations, this is an incredible program that has had a huge impact. “

Chase was trained through a program called Puppies Behind Bars which gives incarcerated people the opportunity to train police therapy dogs. She joined Groton Town Police in September, moving in with McClellan, who pioneered the Therapy Dog Program in the town.

McClellan helped organize the event Thursday to highlight the work that different departments and agencies are doing in their own communities.

In the morning, conference attendees gathered to discuss the programs available in their towns and villages that allow dogs to go out into the community and offer their support services. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the hotel’s conference room was filled with choppy stories and smiling faces as the public was invited to get to know the dogs.

People who attended the event were given “passports” which could be stamped as they passed through the conference hall. Each page featured the name and photo of a different therapy dog, with a location for the dog handler’s signature. Dog handlers also gave out baseball card style cards with their dog’s photo, name and background for kids to collect.

Angela Swift, from New London, brought her 6-year-old son Leandro Garcia and 9-year-old daughter Annelyse Garcia to the conference after looking for something to do to beat the heat on her day off. She said her kids loved meeting all the different dogs, talking with agents, collecting cards and filling out their passports.

Leandro Garcia, proudly wearing a new baseball cap donated by a New York police officer, said the best part of the day “was petting all the dogs.”

Her sister, Annelyse, loved trying to fill out every page of her passport by meeting as many dogs as possible.

“It was fun to see all of the trained dogs doing things like lying down and sitting up and getting up to have a ball. I liked the way they gave us books so we could all see them. dogs and have officers sign for them, ”she said. .

Swift said she thinks the event is a great way for children to interact with police officers and for her and her children to learn more about how police dogs are trained.

“I think it’s great to have kids meeting law enforcement officers like this and learning about law enforcement,” she said.

All comfort dogs, like Chase, Groton’s therapy dog, are used to being around children who are eager to pet them.

McClellan and Chase spend a lot of time at Groton Public Schools, where Chase visits students who attend a special program after experiencing traumatic events.

Aly Macadam, a special educator with The Academy program for kindergarten and first graders who survived trauma at Groton public schools, said Chase’s visits always help her students through their bad days.

Whether Chase is sitting with them while they read, accompanying them to the nurse’s office, or helping them with occupational therapy, time spent with Chase “is a calming form of therapy.”

“A visit from Chase only changes the mood of the day. A lot of times my students’ emotions take over, but if Chase is there they always turn her over,” Macadam said.

Chase was joined Thursday by a black lab named Indy, who was also trained by Puppies Behind Bars and now works for the Naugatuck Police Department, a Golden Retriever named Winnie from the Wellesley Police Department in Massachusetts and a Bernese Mountain Dog. mellow named Teddy of Attleboro, Masse.

Teddy’s manager George Brown of Milford’s K9 first responders, a critical incident mental health support organization, said he had spent years bringing Teddy to prisons and to stages of traumatic events and had seen time and time again how comfort dogs were helping.

“Dogs break down people’s resistance, their barriers, sometimes even with the toughest people who normally don’t reveal their emotions,” Brown said.

“Our job is to interfere with a traumatic event, before your brain classifies it, and give it a positive break,” he said, smiling and gesturing to Teddy’s paws.

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