Amherst Police Department welcomes comfort K9 Winston

“He’s fulfilled his role, which is to bring comfort to people and put a smile on their face”

Photo+courtesy+of+Bill+Laramee

Photo courtesy of Bill Laramee

By Ana Pietrewicz, Assistant Opinion Editorial Editor

Amherst Police Department’s newest recruit has four legs and a furry face.

The department welcomed K9 Winston, a 10-week-old chocolate English Labrador retriever, on Sept. 10. He was sworn in as the department’s comfort dog the same day.

Bill Laramee, neighborhood liaison officer for the department and Winston’s handler, says he started looking into getting a comfort dog for APD after seeing work done by Massachusetts State Police comfort dogs and the University of Massachusetts Police Department K9 dogs, K9 Alec and K9 Parker, who serve dual purpose as bomb-sniffing dogs and community outreach tools.

Photo courtesy of Bill Laramee

“I just saw the connection they created between University students with their partner walking through the Campus Center. Students would gravitate to this dog, so it created a conversation piece,” said Laramee. “Everybody likes a well-mannered dog, or most people do, so I thought it would be a terrific tool for our department.”

Laramee hopes Winston will help facilitate conversations in the community and make people feel more comfortable approaching the police.

Winston was donated to the Amherst Police Department at no cost by Boonefield Labradors in Rindge, New Hampshire through their comfort dog donation program. According to their website, they have donated 11 dogs to police departments in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. The department applied for the program and was interviewed by Boonefield Labradors before the decision was made to award Winston to APD.

Laramee says Winston does not function as an official patrol dog for the department’s K9 unit, as his duties and training are different from those of other K9 dogs.

“He works under specific policies that we’ve created. If another department said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this incident, we think a comfort dog would be of some value, can you come out?’ it’s my decision as to whether or not I want to deploy him to those situations, and it’s my decision once we arrive there if it’s a safe situation,” said Laramee.

“Is it something that is static or dynamic?” Laramee added. “I’m not going to send him in to a situation where there is vulnerability from to be hurt, but if they said can you come to Belchertown Police Department, we’re interviewing somebody that’s a sensitive case and they had requested a dog then I could do that.”

“There’s a lot to learn on many levels, but I think at the root what he’s done so far is he’s fulfilled his role, which is to bring comfort to people and put a smile on their face.”

In his short time as an official member of APD, when he’s not spending his time sleeping, Winston has been making connections inside the department and beyond.

“It’s fun to see like the connection he has between our officers, like he comes in in the morning and people could care less that I’m here. I literally climb over people because they’re on the ground hanging out with him,” Laramee said. “It used to be like, our midnight officers, you couldn’t get them to stay, now you can’t get them to leave because they want to stick around and see Winston.”

Just like his K9 companions Dash and Marvin – who can be found on Instagram at @amherstpolicek9unit – Winston’s work will be documented on the Instagram account @winstonapdmacomfortdog.

Laramee also says he will be setting up a GoFundMe in the next few weeks for those who want to donate to Winston’s care.

“There are expenses related this program obviously, from unforeseen medical bills to equipment. Although his equipment is limited – it’s pretty much a leash, he’s not as equipment-needy as the patrol K9s – but there are expenses so we’re trying to establish a nice party fund that I can use to be able to provide services to the community,” Laramee said.

Ana Pietrewicz can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @anapietrewicz.