READING — Chief David Clark is pleased to share that the Reading Police Department will soon welcome the first of two comfort dogs who will ultimately be paired with its School Resource Officers (SROs).
The department will receive the first of two lab puppies later this month, with the second slated to arrive in late April after SROs Brian Lewis and Matt Vatcher conducted research on starting a comfort dog program in Reading.
Reading Police have seen an uptick in mental health-related calls in both schools and in the community-at-large since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and were seeking new strategies for responding to those calls in a way that deescalates situations and fosters positive interactions with residents.
The department expects the dogs will help soothe children in need and also provide support for victims of crime and trauma. While the dogs will spend most of their time with Officers Lewis and Vatcher at Reading Memorial High School and the elementary and middle schools, respectively, they will also visit the senior center, assisted living facilities and make appearances at community events.
Lewis and Vatcher worked closely with Brad McNamara, who is both a member of the Lunenberg Police Department and oversees the comfort dog program for Boonefield Labs in Rindge, New Hampshire, to develop a comfort dog program for Reading. Breeders Peggi and David Brogan have donated over 18 dogs to law enforcement comfort programs throughout New England, and have generously committed to provide two to Reading Police.
“We are excited to launch this program and for the contributions these two comfort dogs will make to our department and the well-being of everyone they interact with,” Chief Clark said. “I want to thank Officers Lewis and Vatcher for taking on this project, as well as Boonefield Labs for their thoughtful evaluation of our application and their support in making this program possible.”
“The comfort dogs will be an invaluable addition to our school community and I look forward to the positive impact they’ll have on students throughout the district,” Superintendent Dr. Thomas Milaschewski said. “Our SROS have long been a valuable part of our schools and their new partners will no doubt deepen the connection among our students, staff and the SROs in our buildings.”
“I’m grateful for the work the Reading Police Department has invested to bring these dogs to our community,” Town Manager Fidel Maltez said. “With the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of so many people of all ages, the Reading Police comfort dogs will be an extraordinary benefit to all of us.”
The first dog to arrive will be paired with Officer Lewis at the high school, and will reside with he and his family. However, he has not yet been named and students of all ages who attend any of Reading’s public schools are invited to submit their naming suggestions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When submitting, please include the student’s name and what school they attend in order to be considered. Name suggestions should be submitted by March 15.