South Hadley PD raising money to launch comfort dog program

South Hadley Police  04-12-2023

South Hadley Police 04-12-2023

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 4:02 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — The Police Department is fundraising $10,000 to recruit a new member with four paws, a tail and lots of fur.

After Amherst, Greenfield and Belchertown reported the “transformative” impact of the police departments’ comfort dog program, Police Chief Jennifer Gunderson and patrol officer Emily Tebo came before the Select Board on Tuesday to present their ideas for a similar program to foster more connection in the community and improve morale within the department.

“Somebody’s in crisis, family’s in crisis, domestic violence situation, that dog is again just going to be a bridge from the dog to us,” Tebo said, who will handle the incoming pup.

While this is the first public conversation about a comfort dog, Gunderson said Tebo inquired about the idea three years ago, but the tail-end of the pandemic and understaffing hindered the possibility of launching a new program. Funding remained a major obstacle, but Gunderson and police leadership have noticed that other municipal departments have been able to successfully raise money for programs, and decided it was worth trying in this case.

The fundraising goal includes about $5,000 to run the program for the first year, plus money to train and certify the comfort dog and equipment. Most of the required outfittings for the police vehicle were donated by Hadley’s police department, and dog care, like food and medical care, will be donated. A private owner will take care of the dog during his off hours.

“We’ve talked to several communities around us with comfort dogs and it’s nothing but praise,” Tebo said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Amherst Neighborhood Liaison Officer Bill Laramee and his partner Auggie, a full-grown laborador who napped for most of the meeting, explained the community benefits the two comfort dogs brought to Amherst. The department received its first dog, Winston, during 2020, right as community trust in local police departments nosedived. Black Lives Matter protests against police violence similarly damaged internal morale and staff retention.

But Winston alleviated tension in both areas and opened up new opportunities for the police departments to increase involvement within the community.

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“People want to meet Auggie, once they meet Auggie, the segway to Auggie is me,” Laramee said. “If they’re talking to Auggie, they’re going to ask a question about what type of dog he is, how old he is, what do you use him for. Next thing you know, we are exchanging information and these conversations have carried into so many invaluable things.”

As a way to facilitate relationships between the police department and schools, Laramee runs Morning Movement Mentoring, a before-school program offering academic support, opportunities for fitness and wellness talks four days a week at the middle school.

Morning Movement Mentoring serves as an inspiration for a three-week wellness program discussing nutrition, fitness, financial wellness, meditation and holistic health for Asian and Pacific Islander adolenscents in Amherst. Laramee credits both of these programs to Auggie.

“It’s been transformational in terms of what we’ve been able to do in the community and Amherst is a tough place to work if you’re an officer. It’s hard to gain community trust, the relationships we have with our schools is evolving, so I think (Auggie has) been the segway to allow me to be present in our schools,” he said.

Tebo plans to create merchandise to sell and organize a pickleball tournament as part of the fundraiser, but the remaining efforts and timeline for the program will be determined at a later date.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.