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Big comfort

  • Charlene Manor resident Mary Jo McManus with Clarence. Recorder/Paul Franz

    Charlene Manor resident Mary Jo McManus with Clarence. Recorder/Paul Franz

  • Laura and William Gordon of the Greenfield PD with comfort dogs Rosie and Clarence.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Laura and William Gordon of the Greenfield PD with comfort dogs Rosie and Clarence. Recorder/Paul Franz

  • Tara Krok of Greenfield greets Clarence and Rosie with Laura and William Gordon of the Greenfield Police Department on Main St in Greenfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Tara Krok of Greenfield greets Clarence and Rosie with Laura and William Gordon of the Greenfield Police Department on Main St in Greenfield. Recorder/Paul Franz

  • Charlene Manor resident Mary Jo McManus with Clarence. Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Laura and William Gordon of the Greenfield PD with comfort dogs Rosie and Clarence.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Tara Krok of Greenfield greets Clarence and Rosie with Laura and William Gordon of the Greenfield Police Department on Main St in Greenfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz

T here are many different types of heroes.

There’s the handsome “super” man who makes a grand entrance wearing a red cape and the firefighter who rushes into a burning apartment building to save a tenant’s beloved cat.

There’s the parent who makes it to every one of their child’s baseball games, whether that child plays every inning or warms the bench most times.

Then there’s the quiet, gentle giant with soulful eyes who is simply there to comfort children, first responders or anyone else after they’ve witnessed or survived the unimaginable.

Two-year-old Clarence is unassuming at 165 pounds, believe it or not. He saunters and waits for a sign or signal before he makes his approach, while 5-year-old Rosie, who weighs in at 135 pounds, is the more self-assured of the two; she seems to know exactly when to make her move.

The two St. Bernard dogs — the nation’s first official police comfort dogs — live with Greenfield Police Lt. William Gordon and his wife, Laura, who is also an officer on the Greenfield force.

A look into Rosie’s eyes reveals the devilish thoughts of a precocious child, though she knows her place when the moment calls for her attention to work.

Clarence, on the other hand, has a deep, soulful gaze that mesmerizes and leaves those who meet him wondering what he might be thinking behind those dark spheres.

“It’s magical when they enter a room,” says Gordon. “You can actually feel the anxiety subside and people start to relax and feel better.”

Rosie was Gordon’s service dog in 2011 before she became a comfort dog.

“I had responded to incidents in a very short period of time where six people — four students and two adults — had lost their lives,” says Gordon. “I developed PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and I needed help. I was supposed to be the one helping people, but I found myself in need of rescue.”

Gordon had St. Bernard dogs when he was young and had discussed the possibility of getting one with his wife and children.

“We got our first one, Torin, who is now 8 years old and retired, when he was a pup,” says Gordon. “We also have Gracie, who’s 3 years old, but she’s still in training. She’s full of ‘grace’” and has crazy-high energy.”

It was three years after Torin that Rosie came into the Gordons’ lives.

“She was a strong-willed female,” says Gordon. “She’s definitely the ‘alpha dog’ in our pack.”

Gordon says he and his wife would take Rosie out into public and notice that people would come out of their shells when they got near her.

“People who seemed to be shy and withdrawn would ask if they could hug her,” he says.

Gordon says people would just start having conversations with Rosie.

“They’d tell her what was bothering them,” he says. “I knew she had it in her, because she was helping me so much.”

And so, the Gordons starting volunteering to bring Rosie to help first responders who had recently had some sort of bad or difficult experience.

Next came Clarence. The Gordons trained him and he soon was ready to join Rosie.

The two large canines brought weeping firefighters to their knees to hug them at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a 20-year-old man fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members in December 2012; comforted victims who ran a race in Boston shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing; have served and continue to serve those in Franklin County who have experienced loss; and continue to visit local nursing homes, if only long enough to make a lonely elder smile and forget his or her pain for a while.

“We were called to Sandy Hook two days after the shooting,” says Gordon. “We were assigned to firefighters and police officers who were stationed in the rehab unit that was located at the same firehouse the students rushed to after the shooting and were reunited with their families.”

“They were sitting around the firehouse, some were depressed, some were crying and some were still in shock,” he says. “The dogs walked up and it was as if for a brief time tragedy paused and was forgotten. They were distracted. Some smiled, while others just held onto the dogs.”

Gordon says his dogs weren’t called to the Boston bombing site until a couple of months after the incident.

“We were called out to the 10k race they held in June,” he says. “Rosie and Clarence met the runners and helped take away some of their anxieties.”

Gordon says the dogs also work on a much smaller scale: one-on-one with a child who is being interviewed by police, a rape victim, or a victim of domestic violence.

“They give people that break they need from such high anxiety or fear or whatever it is they’re feeling,” he says. “Even if it’s just for five minutes, these people smile again.”

The two dogs were recently honored, with some famous humans, as Top Dogs at the 2013 annual Animal Medical Center Top Dog Gala in New York City. The canines were the only two who got a standing ovation at the gala.

“Clarence had his picture taken with and sat on Barbara Walter’s foot,” says Gordon. “She couldn’t believe how heavy he was. That was funny.”

The same evening, Clarence went paw-to-hand with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

During the New York City trip, Clarence and Rosie attended the ringing of NASDAQ’s closing bell and appeared on the Times Square Jumbotron screen.

“We sometimes have to have security when we take them places,” says Gordon. “They’re not only famous, but people just want to love them up and it can get overwhelming if too many approach them at one time. They are the star attractions wherever we go.”

In February, Greenfield honored them by having an ice sculpture erected on Main Street of the two as part of its annual ice sculpture contest. It stood in front of Green Fields Market until warm temperatures melted it. Clarence also participated in the Winter Carnival keg pull that weekend and won in his class.

The Gordons say Rosie and Clarence are most comfortable when they are in work mode, except when they are lazing with their family at home.

The couple says they don’t self-dispatch to any event.

“We wait to be asked,” Gordon says.

He says when he and his wife take the dogs out for a walk, they allow people to stop and pet them, talk with them, admire them or take photos.

“We give people time with them,” he says. “You never know what someone might be going through. Interacting with Rosie and Clarence can be very helpful and could make all the difference.”

The two celebrities, who have been featured in several magazine and newspaper articles, have gone to the Special Olympics to comfort nervous athletes and visited the Ronald McDonald House in New York City to comfort sick children.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’ve had such an opportunity to see our pets help so many people,” says Gordon — he and his wife are modest about taking credit for what their pets do for others.

“We feel it’s an honor just to be able to hold their leashes,” he says.

The couple says the one good thing about all of this is that Rosie and Clarence don’t let their fame go to their heads.

“They just act like normal dogs when they’re home with us, although sometimes Rosie can become somewhat of a diva,” says Gordon. “If they were human, it might be different.”

Taking care of others

Recently, the Gordons walked down Main Street in Greenfield with Rosie and Clarence by their sides. They would take no more than a few steps before someone would stop them to pet the dogs or take a photo of them.

After leaving Main Street, the couple and their dogs headed to Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility on Colrain Road.

As the four approached an elevator, it opened and Doris Martel exited in her wheelchair. Rosie and Clarence situated themselves on either side of Martel, whose smile stretched from ear to ear.

Even when Martel was “slimed” by Rosie’s drool, as the canine lay her head in Martel’s lap, the woman’s smile remained. The Gordons always carry a “drool towel” for such instances.

“Oh my god,” said Martel, as she stroked their fur. “You’re sweethearts.”

An elevator ride later, Rosie and Clarence were ready to meet more Charlene Manor residents.

Clarence was the first to approach Katerina Minsky. Face-to-face, the two greeted each other and Clarence offered his paw. Rosie stayed back until signaled it was her turn.

Then, while Rosie headed straight to Carol Jones, who laughed as she complimented her furry guest, Clarence lay in the hallway waiting his turn.

Mary Jo McManus gave Rosie a kiss.

“I love animals,” she said. “I had them all my life. My cocker spaniel died in my arms when he was 20 years old. I wish you could bring them here every day.”

When it was Clarence’s turn, he also kissed McManus.

“He loves to shake hands, but he usually doesn’t kiss,” said Laura Gordon.

The Gordons’ say they don’t pay weekly visits to local nursing homes, because people can become too attached and are disappointed when the dogs don’t show up frequently.

Rosie and Clarence are also very busy, say the Gordons. They are invited to a lot of local “meet-and-greets.”

“We bring them (to nursing homes) on occasion,” says Gordon.

After visiting several rooms, it was time to leave, but that was not an easy task, for word had spread quickly throughout the facility and staff and residents had lined the hallways for a chance to meet Rosie and Clarence.

“This is so good for our residents,” said Anita Obue, activities director at Charlene Manor. “It takes away the day-to-day pain many of them struggle with, if only for a little while.”

Trista Golembeski, the facility’s admissions coordinator, said many associate the dogs with some special memory.

“It stirs those memories and gives them an opportunity to reminisce,” she said. “It provides a spark to their day.”

Caring for Rosie & Clarence

Gordon says it is not always easy or inexpensive to care for four St. Bernard dogs.

“There are vet bills and Clarence eats six cups of food a day, while Rosie eats four cups,” he says. “That’s a lot of food.”

Rosie recently had eye problems, including an infection. She will need surgery to permanently correct the problem and that is expected to cost the couple a couple thousand dollars.

The dogs “work” for the Greenfield Police Department, but the town does not finance their care. The Gordons volunteer all of their time and travel.

Gordon says the couple accepts donations, but most costs come out of the Gordons’ pockets.

For more information about Rosie, Clarence and the local program, visit: www.facebook.com/GPDComfortDogs.

To make a donation, send a check to: Greenfield Police Department, care of Comfort Dog Program, 321 High St., Greenfield, MA 01301. Write “Comfort Dog Program” on the memo line.

Staff reporter Anita Fritz worked at The Recorder from 2002 to 2005 and then returned in 2006. She covers Greenfield and can be reached at afritz@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.

Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at pfranz@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.

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