A presidential kiss for Officer Clarence: Greenfield PD’s comfort dog present for slain Capitol officer’s services

  • Greenfield Deputy Chief William Gordon and his comfort dog Officer Clarence joined other K9 First Responders team members and met with Congressman Jim McGovern, center, at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Officer Clarence outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Officer Clarence sits next to a Capitol Police cruiser. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Officer Clarence takes a quick nap before resuming his duty as one of several comfort dogs who attended the services for slain Capitol police officer William “Billy” Evans this week. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2021 4:45:07 PM

WASHINGTON — When Deputy Police Chief William Gordon headed to Washington, D.C. with his 9-year-old comfort dog Clarence by his side, he never dreamed that the Saint Bernard would meet the president and receive a caress and a kiss on the snout from the commander-in-chief, but that’s exactly what happened.

“It was surreal,” said Gordon, who was in the nation’s capital all week after being invited by K9 First Responders, a group he and his comfort dogs have been a member of for several years, to attend services for slain Capitol police officer William “Billy” Evans. The dogs and their handlers provide mental health support and comfort to those who need it.

Evans, who grew up in Adams and worked at the Capitol for 18 years, was killed April 2 when a driver slammed his vehicle into the north barricade of the Capitol complex, hitting Evans and another officer and then crashing into a barrier. The suspect, 25-year-old Noah Green, was shot by another officer and later died.

Gordon said his comfort dogs have fulfilled their roles over the years in such places as Boston after the marathon bombing in 2013, Newtown, Conn., after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Las Vegas a year after the mass shooting there. They’ve also comforted local residents who have experienced the trauma of fires, accidents and other life-altering events.

“We travel the country, wherever we’re asked to go,” Gordon said. “This time we were asked to help out during services at the Capitol building,” where Evans’ body lay in honor this week.

“When I was asked, I immediately said ‘yes,’” Gordon said. “Clarence was able to comfort members of Congress, the officer’s wife and two kids, and our president.”

Gordon said he met with Congressman Jim McGovern from Massachusetts while he was there, too.

“He told his story of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building,” he said. “It was poignant and powerful, and he was comforted by our dogs.”

Gordon said seven teams, including himself and Clarence, gathered at the Capitol this week and also met with Capitol police officers as they prepared for Evans’ funeral.

“I was posted in an alcove outside of the Rotunda, where Evans’ body lay,” he said. “I was probably 50 feet away from his body and 25 feet from the president. I didn’t expect that he would come through the alcove to leave, but that’s what happened. When the services ended, they asked me to step aside so the president could move through.”

He said Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walked through first.

“They were happy to see Clarence,” he said. “When the president followed, he came to Clarence, caressed both of his cheeks and forehead, and then kissed him on the snout. He thanked me and shook my hand and walked off.”

President Joe Biden, a self-proclaimed dog lover, lives with two German Shepherds named Major and Champ.

Gordon said after Biden walked out, Pelosi and Schumer returned for a second visit with Clarence. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with him briefly, too.

“Nancy Pelosi gave me a ‘challenge coin,’” Gordon said. “It’s a big deal for police and military. They carry special coins and swap them with each other and others. It’s a very big deal in D.C., but we do it in Greenfield as well. I also handed out baseball cards with Clarence’s picture on them.”

Gordon is no stranger to his dogs receiving national attention, and it was no different this time — Clarence appeared on CSPAN and numerous reporters tweeted about him.

Gordon said the teams also met with members of the press to make sure they were all OK. Many have covered Washington, D.C. for years and knew Evans. He said members of the press can experience trauma while and after covering traumatic events.

Officer Donut, Gordon’s younger comfort dog, is still in training, so he stayed home with Greenfield Community Resource Officer Laura Gordon this time.

“These dogs put a small ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark day,” he said. “It’s like when there’s a storm and for a brief moment there’s a small break and you might see a rainbow. It’s beautiful, even if just for a few seconds, and then the storm might return.”

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said Greenfield has extraordinary individuals and canines working for the city.

“I was both honored and proud to see Officer Clarence and Deputy Chief Gordon providing consolation and care this week in Washington, D.C.,” Wedegartner said. “As a dog lover and owner, I’m always happy to see how the connections between dogs and humans can provide comfort, safety and goodwill in any situation. In this particular case, I hope it brought a moment of comfort and cheer to an otherwise tragic situation.”

Gordon and Clarence left for Washington, D.C. on Sunday and will return to Greenfield on Friday. He said he still thinks of Clarence as a pet, and he sometimes forgets that he’s much more than that to other people in crisis.

“But I’ll always remember that he was kissed by a president,” he said.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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