Credit: Courtesy of Seacoast Online

Willow, a 12-week-old golden retriever mix, begins her work shift by making her daily rounds and greeting each police officer in their offices. In return, she is greeted with many excited pets and smiles. After lightening the mood, Willow will decide where she will take her first nap of the day.

Willow was one of 100-plus dogs seized from a Bradford home this summer as part of a neglect/animal cruelty case. Although Willow hadn’t been born yet, her mother gave birth to her just five days later at Pope Memorial SPCA in Concord, which took care of 50% of the dogs that were rescued. The shelter donated Willow to the Greenland Police Department, where she has been welcomed by Chief Tara Laurent and her team.

Now, Willow has her own police badge and is beginning her training to serve officers and the community as a comfort dog.

Laurent said Willow has attended her first obedience class and knows two commands: “sit” and “down.” The chief says it’s incredible to see “something so awful be turned into something good,” referencing the neglectful situation Willow’s mother was in about two months ago.

When Willow is not in “intense” obedience training, the pup is being taken care of by Lt. Dave Kurkul and police administrative assistant Eli Tretter, who are her primary handlers. Police are hoping Willow will be “comfort ready” by spring 2020.

Laurent said the department is always looking for new ways to help and interact with the public, especially when it concerns mental health, and she is optimistic Willow will serve the community well. The dog will assist Greenland police with community engagement and public relations, but the foundation of the comfort dog program is “built around mental health, victim’s advocacy and trauma,” according to Laurent.

The chief said comfort dogs working with police is a growing trend in New Hampshire police departments. Other participating departments include Franklin, Concord and the University of New Hampshire, she said.

Laurent said some Greenland officers were present at the first day of school in town and observed how Willow may have been able to comfort some of the children who were feeling nervous.

The public should not worry about approaching Willow because she does not hold the same role as her fellow K-9 dog officers, which work on investigations, Laurent said. Willow’s main role is to interact with humans and residents should feel free to greet her warmly.