Cute and charming: Shutesbury swears in Charlie, its first police comfort dog

Shutesbury Town Clerk Grace Bannasch, left, and Police Chief Kristin Burgess swear in Charlie, the newly added 9-week-old comfort dog, to the  town’s Police Department. “People see him and immediately melt,” said Bannasch.

Shutesbury Town Clerk Grace Bannasch, left, and Police Chief Kristin Burgess swear in Charlie, the newly added 9-week-old comfort dog, to the town’s Police Department. “People see him and immediately melt,” said Bannasch. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Shutesbury Town Clerk Grace Bannasch nuzzles with Charlie, the newly added 9-week-old comfort dog for the town’s Police Department.

Shutesbury Town Clerk Grace Bannasch nuzzles with Charlie, the newly added 9-week-old comfort dog for the town’s Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Kristin Burgess, the Shutesbury Police Chief, sits in her office with Charlie, the newly added 9 week old comfort dog to the department. “He specializes in cuddles and love,” said Burgess.

Kristin Burgess, the Shutesbury Police Chief, sits in her office with Charlie, the newly added 9 week old comfort dog to the department. “He specializes in cuddles and love,” said Burgess. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Shutesbury Police Chief Kristin Burgess holds Charlie, the department’s comfort dog, who she will raise. “He specializes in cuddles and love,” she said.

Shutesbury Police Chief Kristin Burgess holds Charlie, the department’s comfort dog, who she will raise. “He specializes in cuddles and love,” she said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

 Charlie sits on Police Chief Kristin Burgess’ desk.  “He specializes in cuddles and love,” said Burgess.

Charlie sits on Police Chief Kristin Burgess’ desk. “He specializes in cuddles and love,” said Burgess. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2024 8:45 PM

SHUTESBURY — On his first day at Shutesbury Town Hall, a week before officially being sworn in as the Police Department’s first K-9 officer, Charlie provided a calming distraction for a stressed and flustered resident who had come to the town offices.

Offering such assistance, as well as making visits to the elementary school, meeting up with senior citizens and participating at community events, are expected to be among the duties for the town’s newest officer, a 9-week-old mini Aussiedoodle doing joint patrols alongside Police Chief Kristin Burgess.

“His sole responsibility will be comfort,” Burgess says. “That’s his only job.”

At a brief ceremony Monday, Charlie, who weighs just 3 pounds and is the smallest of a litter born in Pennsylvania, joined the police force. After administered the oath by Town Clerk Grace Bannasch, he was given an embroidered badge that will be sewn to his harness.

Before Burgess found the puppy and traveled to western Pennsylvania to pick him in late January, the chief discussed having a comfort dog with school administrators, senior citizens and others.

“I found an overwhelming response of positivity in that direction,” Burgess told the Select Board, which approved Charlie’s appointment at its Jan. 30 meeting.

For the youngest students, Charlie, who will grow to be about 10 pounds, will be perfect. “Smaller children tend to do better with smaller dogs, because they are not so overwhelming,” Burgess said.

The Select Board also adopted a comfort dog policy, similar to ones used by other agencies in Franklin County and modeled after Whately’s policy. Burgess previously spoke to Whately Police Chief James Sevigne Jr. about the program there.

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In addition to Whately, Greenfield and Belchertown are among other nearby communities with comfort dogs, though Charlie is smaller than the poodles, Labrador retrievers or St. Bernards often used in the line of work.

The costs to the town are minimal. Burgess will own Charlie and pay for his veterinary bills, and for grooming, housing and feeding him. If he’s injured in the line of duty, the town would pay reasonable veterinary fees, though this is unlikely since he is not a task dog sniffing out bombs, drugs or firearms, or finding missing people.

Charlie will get training as a comfort dog and be certified by the American Kennel Club, Burgess said, adding that he’s already showing he’s cut out for the work. “He’s a natural,” Burgess said.

His work will also include providing sympathy to families displaced from their homes or those in need following domestic violence. “Charlie’s calm and sweet demeanor takes people down a little bit,” Burgess said.

Having a comfort dog is important in a small town that doesn’t have access to money for emergency mental health co-responders who can join police in helping people in crisis or having a difficult time.

At the Select Board meeting, Bannasch praised the idea of having this new mental health support, recalling when growing up in town that children were accustomed to seeing Ziggy, who fulfilled the role ofcomfort dog Ziggy at the M.N. Spear Library during Judith Seelig’s tenure as library director between 1999 and 2004.

Burgess thanked the Select Board for endorsing a vision to continue pursuing a community policing model.

“This is taking the department to the next level of community policing,” Burgess said.