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Officer Beko poses with K9 Officer Kristopher Balestro after being sworn in as the department's first comfort dog.
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Great Barrington Police Department Swears in 'Comfort Dog' Officer

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Correspondent
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Peggi and David Brogan of reconnect with Beko. The Brogans run Boonefield Labradors and have donated Labs to police departments in the region. Beko was their 13th donated dog.  
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — The Police Department's newest K9 officer is all about the cuddles. 
Officer Beko, a four-month old English Labrador, was sworn in on Friday afternoon as the force's first comfort dog. 
Police Chief William R. Walsh Jr. led the ceremony, accompanied by Officer Kristopher Balestro, while the guest of honor sat on a plush bed with treats and a bowl of water by his side.  
Little Beko is not only the department's first comfort dog but the first K9 of that type in Berkshire County. The pup will work with handler Balestro to support both the Police Department and the town's citizens. 
The Comfort Dog Program was proposed and organized by Balestro and Sgt. Paul Sorti with the support of Walsh, Sgt. Adam Carlotto, Town Manager Mark Pruhenski, and the Select Board.  
"I wanted to make sure that this program really fit our community and our police department," Walsh said. "I found out that it would be a great benefit and fit in perfectly with our community and our Police Department."  
Beko's purpose is to provide tension and anxiety relief. He will accompany Balestro on calls that involve domestics with children, senior citizens and other crises, and assist witnesses and victims when they are giving statements. So far, he has done a great job when visiting schools, nursing homes, and hospitals.  
Walsh sees comfort dogs as a good ice breaker, especially for children. He said a person may be hesitant about speaking to an officer, but are visibly less tense and when Officer Beko pops out from under a desk. 
Beko's presence aims to make communication between police and citizens more effective. 
"This is a non-controversial tool that we have" Walsh said. "And I think it is here to stay."  
The new K9 officer will also provide tension relief for department employees, as their jobs can be full of high-stress situations. Officers all agreed that scratching behind Beko's ears brightens their day.
Walsh emphasized that this program will be of no cost to taxpayers, as it has been funded completely by donations. Beko himself was donated by Peggi and David Brogan of Boonefield Labradors in southern New Hampshire. The Brogans breed Labradors for their calm, low-key temperament. They have been donating Labs to police forces for two years, a majority of them being comfort dogs. Beko is their 13th donation.  
When asked why they provide this generous service Peggi Brogan simply said, "We just want to help people."  
Beko's training is also a donation. Lois Platt of Real Life Obedience dog school in South Egremont trains with Beko once a week. When she heard about Great Barrington's comfort dog, she contacted the department and offered her services. Beko also participates in a puppy play group once a week to socialize him with other dogs.  
"The first step is we have to raise a nice puppy," Platt said. "He has to be able to get along in his house, he has to understand what his owners want, and the first thing we teach him is how to earn a reward."  
The Comfort Dog Program stems from a collaboration Great Barrington Police did with Brien Center, the local mental health clinic, two years ago in an effort to re-imagine the department. Two days a week, Brien Center staff would assist officers on calls that dealt with mental health and abuse. This was a way for the police to connect with the local community and show that they are invested in the mental well-being of their citizens.  
Walsh explained that the Comfort Dog Program goes hand in hand with Great Barrington Police Department's collaboration with the Brien Center.  
Officer Beko lives with Balestro's family that consists of his wife and two daughters. When he is not on duty, Beko enjoys playing fetch, tug of war, and getting belly rubs.   
"Beko and I promise to make you all proud," Balestro said, "and strive to be the best leaders for others to follow." 


Tags: K9,   therapy dogs,   

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Great Barrington 'Riled' by Think Tank Declaration on COVID-19

Staff ReportsiBerkshires
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Town officials are upset with a statement released by a local libertarian think tank that used the town's name on a controversial statement endorsing "focused herd immunity." 
In a communication sent to iBerkshires, town leaders say Great Barrington has strived to be a safe community from the transmission of the novel coronavirus and that the "Great Barrington Declaration" from the American Institute for Economic Research is undermining that. 
The town had no role in, or forewarning of, the declaration bearing the town's name, say officials, and that it's publication has "riled" many local residents, business owners and town leaders.
"We are a COVID safe community, we are not tossing off our masks," said Town Manager Mark Pruhenski. "This declaration has gained national headlines and has created harmful misperceptions — just as we are doing all we can to protect residents, employees and visitors."
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