Pittsfield Police Department Welcome Winston the Comfort Dog
PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- There is a new officer in the city who is fuzzy and loves to be pet.
The Police Department has recently added a comfort dog unit, employing "Officer Winston" the poodle to provide ease in post-traumatic incidents.
Winston works alongside Officer Darren Derby, who is a patrolman, the department safety officer, and known for his work in community outreach. With the new addition, the department hopes to bridge the gap between the public and their uniforms.
"There are a lot of times that people can't or won't talk to the police and he's just another tool," Derby said about the new four-legged officer. "Another tool for us to be able to have that somewhat safe feeling for people when they're talking to the police and animals, but dogs in general, have that ability."
Winston's main objective is assisting in traumatic situations. This can include domestic violence, sexual assault, mental illness crises, or anything involving children.
He is assigned to Derby as part of his community outreach and safety position.
Derby explained that comfort dogs are also commonly used as support when a victim is giving testimony to the police.
On top of that, he said Winston already has done a lot for the department in terms of providing relief. He has freedom within the facility and is able to visit staff members at his leisure.
iBerkshires was warmly and politely greeted by Winston upon entering the employee portion of the police station.
The pooch is currently about 18 weeks old and will reach anywhere from 40 to 60 pounds as a standard-sized poodle. He was named in honor of Lt. Michael Winston, a longtime Pittsfield Police officer who passed away in 2018.
"We thought it would be an awesome tribute to the lieutenant," Derby said. "And it was fitting"
Winston arrived in mid-September after being donated by Berkshire Poodles, a local breeder who has made a commitment to provide dogs to first responders.
The City Council officially accepted the donation at its Sept. 14 meeting. Derby explained that there was a lot involved in the making of it.
"It's not just your typical adding a canine to the canine unit that's already established, you have nothing to go from," he added.
The department had to decide several factors such as what breed of dog it would get and where it will come from. Derby said it was important for him to have a hypoallergenic pup so that he can assist even people with allergies.
It was after the sudden passing of Great Barrington's comfort dog Officer Beko - who was the only police comfort dog in the county -- that the decision was made to move forward with the new unit.
Derby began discussing the process with Chief Michael Wynn and at the same time, Berkshire Poodles reached out and offered the donation of Winston, who was hand-picked for the job because of his calm demeanor.
A couple of months later, the council was approving the donation without comment and the new officer had arrived. Derby said he had hoped the council would inquire about the comfort dog donation.
"I was hoping that we'd be able to talk about it to get people amped," he said.
The next step was giving Winston a transportation vehicle of his own, which was fashioned from a spare canine car.
So far, Winston has gone on calls and visited schools and the hospital.
He will only go to scenes when they are safe, which is why Derby emphasized that he is for post-trauma situations. Anytime that there is a possible physical altercation or weapons, Winston will not be brought out.
He can also be used as a tool to figure out a solution without a criminal ending and further police services.
Recently, the pup assisted in a mental health situation with an intoxicated individual who needed rehabilitation services.
About 10 minutes into Derby's communication with the man, he asked if Winston could join them and the man reportedly perked right up upon seeing the dog.
"And we were able to have a conversation, we were able to break that barrier, get rid of the whole uniform," Derby explained. "That I'm not there for criminal purposes, I'm there to help him and so is [Winston.]"
Derby hopes to do more comfort dog outreach at the hospital so that Winston can help others deal with traumatic situations.
Winston will start formal training next month beginning with basic obedience. Berkshire Poodles also wants to work with a non-profit service dog organization in the eastern part of the state, BASK (Balance and Service K9s) to get him trained to be a service dog.
"Dogs have that keen sense of knowing when somebody needs extra attention," Derby said.
The four-legged officer rides with Derby during the day and sometimes stays at his home but and primarily lives with Wynn when off duty.
"It's kind of nice because it's like, you get the best of both worlds, we're the uncle and the auntie, they can have them at the house and he does come and stay with us," Derby explained. "But he rides with me anytime I'm working."
He said he has seen positive interactions between Winston and the public on a daily basis and the pooch and that he looks forward to his future with the new co-worker and friend.