Greenfield’s pioneering comfort dogs to be honored in NYC ceremony
Greenfield Police Department officer William Gordon introduces his first responder comfort dog Clarence to students at the Federal Street School on Friday. Clarence and another Saint Bernard, Rosie, will be honored in New York Monday as the first dogs specially trained to comfort trauma victims. The dogs helped first responders in Newtown, Conn., who were at the scene of the Sandy Hook school massacre, cope in the aftermath of that traumatic situation.
Greenfield police officers Laura and William Gordon with their first responder comfort dogs, Rosie and Clarence, at the Federal Street School on Friday.
GREENFIELD — Two local police workers will be honored for their duty in a ceremony in New York City next week.
Rosie and Clarence aren’t your average police officers, though. They’re under 4 feet tall, they don’t carry guns, and they’re covered in thick, soft fur.
Rosie and Clarence are first-responder comfort dogs, the first in the country. They don’t track scents like bloodhounds, or take down dangerous suspects like German shepherds. So, what does a big, cuddly Saint Bernard do for police?
“Their only job is to make people feel better,” handler and owner Lt. William Gordon explained to a group of schoolchildren Friday.
The dogs’ sole duty is to provide relief to victims of, and responders to, traumatic events.
Gordon, his wife, Sgt. Laura Gordon, and their dogs will be guests of honor at the Animal Medical Center’s annual “Top Dog Gala” Tuesday in Manhattan. They’ll share the stage with TV journalist Barbara Walters, who will be honored for her commitment to the health and wellbeing of animals, her support of the organization, and her decades-long career in journalism.
The Animal Medical Center, founded in 1910, is a nonprofit, academic animal hospital catering to companion animals, as well as conducting research on animal medicine. The annual gala is a fundraiser regularly attended by wealthy animal lovers, and is expected to raise $1.5 million this year.
Friday, the Gordons brought Rosie and Clarence to the Federal Street School to talk about the comfort dog program, and officially announce the award.
The Gordons bought Rosie as a pet, and began to enter her in dog shows.
When Lt. Gordon was diagnosed with post-traumatic-stress disorder in 2010, he sought treatment at the On-Site Academy in Westminster for the disorder.
The academy helps emergency service professionals who, like Lt. Gordon, need help coping with the traumatic things they’ve seen and experienced in the line of duty.
“I started bringing Rosie to the academy two years ago, and I noticed how much she was helping the other people there,” he said.
Soon, Rosie was making regular visits to the academy, and the Gordons got her trained as a comfort dog. They also had her “adopted younger brother,” Clarence, trained.
Through her visits to the academy, Rosie became known to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
A couple days after last year’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., a priest with the ATF called the Gordons, to ask if they could bring their dogs to Newtown to comfort the emergency workers who responded to the school and otherwise assisted.
The Gordons went to the Newtown fire station to help, and were initially turned away when security told them there were no family members of victims there to help.
“We turned to leave, and saw a couple of firefighters, on their knees, hugging the dogs and crying,” Lt. Gordon recalled.
Seeing that, security officials changed their minds, and let them in. The Gordons and their dogs stayed for about a week.
“As some of the ATF agents typed the horrific details of their reports, they had one hand on the keys, and the other on a dog,” Gordon continued. “There’s just something about a dog, and the stress they can take off of you after a critical incident, that’s incredibly profound.”
The dogs were again called to action after the April Boston Marathon bombing. The Boston Athletic Association held a 10k race in June, and asked the Gordons to bring Rosie and Clarence to console athletes and first responders impacted by the bombing.
Most days, though, Rosie and Clarence spend their time at the Gordons’ Greenfield home.
They are available to provide needed relief to victims of traumatic events large and small. Lt. Gordon said the dogs may be called to comfort children involved in car accidents, as well as victims of abuse, house fires or other traumatic occurrences.
They’re also there to help emergency responders.
“It’s difficult for a cop to ask for (professional) help,” said Lt. Gordon. It’s a lot easier, he said, to tell their troubles to a dog.
“Watching them work is sometimes surreal,” said Gordon. “For a lot of the people they helped in Newtown, it was the first time they’d smiled in a week. You can really feel the relief come through.”
You can reach David Rainville at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 279