New Community Resource Dog Cruises into Town

Grace Allen
Cruiser is the newest member of the Wrentham Police Department. Photo courtesy of Wrentham Police.
Issue Date: 
March, 2020
Article Body: 

Wrentham Police have a new recruit, and the consensus is that he’s awfully cute. “Cruiser,” a golden retriever puppy, joined the force last month. The community resource dog was provided by Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey.
Cruiser will spend his time in the schools, the senior center, Wrentham Developmental Center, and anywhere else he may be needed, said Police Chief Bill McGrath.
“He’ll be there for children with special needs, victims of crime, and victims of trauma,” said McGrath. “He’ll also spend time comforting his biggest fans, the police officers and firefighters who are dying to get to know him better.”
Chief McGrath noted that Sgt. Dan Morris and Officer Riley McGrath are Cruiser’s handlers, but the puppy will also partner with school resource officer Todd Schwalbe during visits to the schools.
“We have to weigh the value of his visits against the distraction he will cause. Kids love puppies more than books,” quipped the Chief. “Kind of like adults do!”
Cruiser, named by Wrentham’s school kids soon after his arrival in town, is an English cream breed of golden retriever, known for its patient and gentle nature. He was bred and trained by Golden Opportunities for Independence in Walpole, a non-profit that pairs service and therapy dogs with individuals, and more recently with area police departments as community resource dogs.
John Moon of Golden Opportunities for Independence described some of the positive impacts of community resource dogs, noting dogs like Cruiser can be an important bridge between police departments and the public.
“Cruiser can act as a social lubricant, ice breaker, and emotional de-escalator by creating conversation, trust, and a softer presence in the community,” said Moon. “Within all communities, officers and departments are grappling with populations that include autism and Alzheimer’s and the emotional challenges that accompany these and other conditions.”
The community resource dog program at Golden Opportunities for Independence is in its third year. Spearheaded by Walpole Police, the unique community policing model came to the attention of the District Attorney’s office.
“One thread of our ongoing criminal justice reform efforts is de-escalation and finding peaceful, constructive solutions—particularly in juvenile situations and school settings,” DA Morrissey said in a statement. “The presence of a community resource dog before, during, or after a stressful situation can be a game changer.”
According to DA Morrissey, last month grants were offered for up to four police departments to acquire the community resource dogs and pair them with officers. The other police departments were in Needham, Dedham, and Weymouth.
“The ongoing care of the animals is a significant commitment, and we were thrilled to have these four communities step up,” said Morrissey. “I commend those chiefs for their partnership and progressive thinking.”
Cruiser will attend training sessions Monday through Thursday, explained Chief McGrath, as well as socialization practice at places like Petco. During his training period, the puppy will live with Sgt. Morris, spend time with Office McGrath, and visit the station occasionally. When training is complete, Cruiser will be a permanent fixture in the station during the day and go home with Sgt. Morris at night.
Chief McGrath said the grant provided by the DA’s office will pay for the puppy’s training. A local veterinarian has offered Cruiser free care for life, so there will be zero expense for the town.
Other towns already with community resource dogs include Sharon, Brookline, and Franklin.
“We see the positive impact these animals are having on their communities,” DA Morrissey said. “It made encouraging more towns to take part very attractive to us. These dogs will be in the schools, but I have no doubt they will be useful in a broad menu of situations.”
With the addition of Cruiser, one-third of the 27 communities in Morrissey’s Norfolk County district now have support animals.
“Norfolk County may be ahead of other areas on this, but I have no doubt that this is a practice that will spread and become more common across Massachusetts and the country,” DA Morrissey said. “Good ideas spread. And this is a very good idea.”