Sheriff's office new comfort dogs to spread pawsitivity throughout region

Sep 29, 2022

There’s a new top dog at the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office — well, two, actually.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson announced the addition of canines Jack and Hero, two mixed-breed rescues from Florida, to be the first of the department’s new “comfort dogs.”

“We’re just so proud to have this opportunity,” he said at a press conference. “They may seem like little things, but these are the things that make a difference in the lives of people in our communities.”

Jack will work with Deputy Chris Vaz, while Hero is paired with Deputy Shanna Sears-Oatley.

“I’m so excited to get out in the community,” Sears-Oatley said with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to work with a dog.”

The comfort dog program grew out of the Covid-detection unit it started last year

Hodgson said as those dogs, Duke and Huntah, would go to schools, “kids really took notice to the Covid canines.”

“They actually put smiles on people’s faces,” he said. “They snapped them out of whatever concerns that are weighing on them.”

Wanting to have dogs who are solely dedicated to providing joy and comfort, the sheriff’s office began to collaborate with the Mattapoisett-based Friends of Jack Foundation, who for years has provided teddy bears to children of inmates at the Dartmouth jail.

Around a month ago, the foundation which helps sick children in need of assistance and cheer, was able to rescue Jack and Hero, who were bound for a kill shelter in Florida. 

While identifying possible canines, the first candidate presented was 2-year-old Jack. Immediately, the foundation knew rescuing a dog with its namesake was the right thing to do.

“What are the odds?” said Peter Cohenno, the foundation’s executive director. “Some things are just meant to be.”

Hero, who is 12 weeks old, did not have a name at the time of his rescue. The plan was to allow a donor to place a bid to name the puppy during its annual fundraiser. A donor contributed $10,000, but wanted the name to be chosen by children online. 

Ultimately, they picked Hero.

“He’s born for the role,” Cohenno said.

Friends of Jack founder Jill Fearons, who had difficulty letting go of Hero during the press conference, said it was her pleasure to bring these friendly dogs to Dartmouth.

“They will change the lives for the littlest superheroes in the community,” she said. “We are honored to be part of this.”

The foundation also provided a more than $12,000 check to the sheriff’s office to aid in the training and care of the four-legged deputies.

“This is going to make a giant difference in our community,” she said.

Initial training for the two new comfort canines was provided by Professional Canine Services in Middleboro. 

Patrick Martin, a former Barnstable County K-9 officer and the co-founder of the training service, said a lot of the work was getting the duo to adapt to life in New England. He noted that after a 24-hour ride from Florida with more than 30 other dogs, Jack and Hero were “shell-shocked.”

“They finally got to relax,” he said. 

Afterward, training consisted of getting them acclimated to other people and, in Hero’s case, lessening jumpiness. 

Already, Hodgson said, the dogs have been boosting morale inside the Faunce Corner Road jail, much to the delight of the correctional officers.

“We bring them into central control, and after some time, they say, ‘can the dogs stay a little longer?’” the sheriff said. “They’re like automatic smile-makers.”

In addition to stops in the jail, Jack and Hero will make appearances at area hospitals, summer camps, schools, and other community activities. The sheriff’s office said other plans include comforting victims after tragedies like house fires or distress situations.

Hodgson also used the press conference to officially announce the formation of the Bristol County Comfort Dog Coalition — a collaboration between the sheriff's office, the Friends of Jack Foundation and regional law enforcement/public safety agencies which utilizes canines to provide comfort in their communities.

According to the sheriff, there are 38 dogs as part of this coalition — more than half of all in the entire commonwealth.

The coalition had its first deployment on Sept. 19 at Attleboro High School to help console students and staff after two recent graduates died in a car crash a few days prior.

“[The principal] said it made a really big impact,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Jonathan Darling said.

Partnerships currently include police departments in Acushnet, Fairhaven, Somerset, Dighton, Brockton and Seekonk. No such partnerships have been established in Dartmouth, but Hodgson said it is something the sheriff’s office hopes to make as the program grows.

“We’ll go anywhere,” Hodgson said. “We’d be happy to do more in Dartmouth.”