Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton said an as-yet-unnamed puppy will be arriving at the station sometime in November to act as a comfort canine for public safety officials. Contributed

SCARBOROUGH — Sgt. Steven Thibodeau, who has been working in the town’s police department for 23 years, said he’s been in too many traumatic situations that will forever change his outlook on life.

But if there’s one thing he knows for certain, it’s that dogs always put a smile on his face and make him forget – if only briefly – just how difficult his job can be.

“Something we see a lot of is suicide. Sometimes it can be a gruesome scene, sometimes it looks peaceful, but it’s hard to wrap your head around,” he said. “I have three dogs at home, and when I get to see them I know what impact they have on me. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

In an effort to address the emotional and mental wellbeing of officers and community members, the department will soon have a dog meant to minimize stress and help build better relationships between residents and officers.

“Our guys see things on a daily basis that no one should ever have to see; smell and hear things that no human being should be exposed to,” Deputy Chief David Grover said. “To have this small piece of friendliness at the station that is forgiving and happy to see you when you come in the door, that changes that attitude of those guys.”

Grover said the Saint Bernard/poodle mix will help public safety officials who have become withdrawn because of what they’ve experienced.

According to Harvard Health Medical School, studies going back to the early 1980s support the idea that dogs and other pets have enormous health benefits for people. They’ve been shown to lower blood pressure, improve recovery from heart disease and improve overall psychological wellbeing and self-esteem.

This Saint Bernard/poodle mix will serve as a community support dog at the Scarborough Police Department. Contributed

The dog, who is set to arrive in November, will grow to about 40 pounds and is hypoallergenic. The town, which took suggestions for names via Facebook from Oct. 22-27, will have to sift through over 1,400 suggestions and choose one by Nov. 1.

Police Chief Robbie Moulton wouldn’t disclose how much the dog cost, where she was purchased or what funds are being used. Moulton said the price was still being debated as of Oct. 28, and he wants to speak with the people who are selling the dog before releasing more information.

Moulton said while there is more recognition about the stress officers deal with on a daily basis, the rising stigma against police officers continues to cause residents to engage with officers in a negative way.

He said officers see a lot of folks with trauma ⁠— physical and sexual abuse, along with those seeking treatment for substance use disorder. Officers often bottle up their emotions, Moulton said, unable or unwilling to talk about what they’ve seen or experienced. Having seen first-hand how an animal’s presence can light up the room, he knew it was a good choice to get a comfort dog for the department.

“Animals seem to instinctively recognize when someone is struggling and tend to go toward them,” Moulton said. “Sitting in different meetings over the past few years, it’s interesting to watch as a dog someone brought would come in and make its way … . The animal comes around and people’s whole facial expressions change, they open up a little bit.”

Thibodeau said there’s a saying in the department, that often the officers’ ability to handle stress is like a bucket ⁠— and as those buckets begin to overflow, sometimes it becomes apparent to co-workers or family members, based on their performance at work or home. Moulton said they have established a peer support group to work through those challenges, but Thibodeau said there’s nothing like a dog to bring happiness to everyone in the room.

“⁠K-9 dogs protect the community, but this dog will give us the outreach that we will embrace in the community. We could take her to events with us, or have them comfort people who visit our department,” he said. “People don’t realize just how important this will be for us, for our community, for our department.”

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