DIGHTON — Oakie the community comfort dog has arrived in Dighton.
On Thursday, July 21, an enthusiastic, dog-loving crowd gathered in the conference room at Dighton Police Department headquarters, including K9 Raider from the Somerset Police Department and K9 Marty from the East Providence Police Department.
And just past noon Dave and Peggi Brogan of Boonefield Labradors presented the eight-week-old pup to School Resource Officer Stephen Hathaway.
Oakie, perhaps overwhelmed by the long ride from Southern New Hampshire and the big Gotcha Day to-do, snoozed on and off for most of the hour-long welcoming party, but did have a chance to get acquainted with Raider and Marty, fellow Boonefield labs, the DPD gang, members of the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office and a few Dighton town officials and residents.
Oakie will benefit from the all the rest, though, as he and SRO Hathaway were set to start training as a team on Friday.
Oakie is under the command of and will reside with SRO Hathaway, and in the days and years ahead will be a friendly, reassuring police and community spokes-dog and likely attain celebrity status in Dighton in short order.
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“Every day he will come to work with me,” Hathaway said. “You know, for now, during the summer we’ll be going to different events, different community outings and whatnot, here in Dighton and the surrounding towns.
“And then, during the school year he’ll be with me, primarily going to the schools.”
How it all began
Hathaway says interest in bringing a comfort dog to Dighton was piqued in the summer of 2021 while he and Assistant SRO Alyssa Bennett were attending training to become certified as school resource officers.
“There were a handful of comfort dogs that were there,” Hathaway said. “So we got to talking to these guys and gals that have the dogs and they said that the change they see, by being able to bring the dog into the schools, the change with these kids is amazing.”
“Some kids that usually have behavioral issues, they know, ‘If, hey, I’m good on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I get to see the dog on Thursday.’ And it really changes their whole perspective. They say it’s been a great tool for them.”
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As a member of the DPD and regular at locals schools, Hathaway hopes Oakie will be an ice-breaker between law enforcement and young students and build positive associations and connections for future encounters with law enforcement out in the community.
“So the dog is gonna be really used as a way to break down barriers, open lines of communication between us, the public, the community, the children in the schools — you know, who doesn’t want to come up and pet a dog while you’re in school?”
“In the school setting, kids are more likely to come up and say hi if I’m walking a dog through the schools. It’s just a great tool that can also be used at the Council On Aging, for the officers here, with different situations that come and go.”
Hathaway says comfort dogs can be distracters to aid victims and bystanders in emergencies, to calm, relieve and from potential traumatic events unfolding in the moment.
Comfort dogs can befriend young children involved in car accidents and house fires, for example, to distract and relieve while parents and caregivers may not be immediately available or to quicken the transition from intense feelings of fear and excitement to feelings of calm and safety.
Another Boonefield Labrador in the community
Boonefield Labradors, based in Southern New Hampshire, has donated three comfort dogs in the immediate neighborhood of Dighton in just the past year. Oakie is joining K9 Raider from Somerset, who works and lives with handler SRO Brendan Hague, and K9 Marty from East Providence, paired with SRO Jay Rogers.
Since starting their therapy/comfort dog program, the Brogans through Boonefield Labradors — named after their first lab, Boone — have donated 23 dogs to police departments and community organizations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire.
At Oakie’s welcome party, the Brogans were able to reconnect with Raider and Marty, who were litter mates and remain good buddies.
Dave says it all started when his wife Peggie started dabbling in therapy work with one of their pet dogs, and when they realized the good therapy and comfort dogs could do in police work and community work they got more involved with the work and training and began Breeding and donating dogs for communities seeking therapy or comfort dogs.
“There is definitely a need for it, and they fill that need,” Brogan said.
The dogs undergo basic training, with a heavy dose of socialization, before heading to a new home; training as a therapy and/or comfort dog starts only after the dog is placed with a handler.
“It’s in their nature,” he said, “and we’ve got four to five generations that we’ve been breeding, so we know their temperaments. But as I said, it’s a lot of exposure, getting them out and exposed to all different circumstances so you know how they’re gonna react.
“We do as much as we can up to 8 weeks old,” Dave Brodan said. “We expose them to crowds, bring them to the gun range, so they don’t get scared of those kinds of things, so they get used to all different settings. We start early… putting our fingers in their mouths and pulling their ears and squeezing their paws, so that we know when I child comes up to them they’re just gonna let them handle them.”
Bristol County Sheriff a big supporter of therapy and comfort dogs
Also in attendance at the welcoming event was Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, who is a believer and strong proponent of the use of therapy and comfort dogs as a part of community policing.
This is such an important program, and it’s a great program,” Hodgson said. “In our communities to be able to have a therapy dog that can go in and immediately engage with people, kids who may be anxious, or go to a scene, maybe a fire scene, where people may have lost their home, to have therapy dogs there and respond to those types of situations is a great resource.”
Hodgson says Bristol County and the surrounding areas have built “a coalition of therapy dogs” able to respond to traumatic events and emergencies across town lines.
“We will all respond to the various communities, whether it’s our community of someone else’s, if need be, and we’ll bring as many therapy dogs as we can possibly get there.”
Of course, schools are a top center of engagement.
“We’re finding great success in the schools, where the kids can come in and actually play with these dogs,” Hodgson said. “But not only does it put smiles on the kids’ faces, it puts smiles on the teachers’ faces , gives them a shift in mindset.
“And we even bring them in to our facilities, for our staff, who have very difficult jobs. But they don’t want us to let the dog leave, of course, they want the dog to stay longer. when they walk in and completely change someone’s mental state at that moment.”
How you can help and support Oakie
SRO Hathaway says he expects plenty of community support in the months and years ahead. As any pet, Oakie will require food and treats, vet care and support unique to service dogs serving in a law enforcement setting.
To that end, people interested in supporting Oakie and the comfort dog program at the Dighton Police Department can visit k9comfort.secure-decoration.com to get all the latest info on Oakie and his adventures, purchase T-shirts, sweatshirts and travel mugs and /or contributions monetary donations to be put directly toward care and feeding.
Taunton Daily Gazette staff writer Jon Haglof can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Taunton Daily Gazette today.