With his paws firmly placed on a desk, Bear, the comfort dog for the Brookline Police Department, waited for the faces of other pups to pop up on a computer screen.
Soon the two-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever was “zooming” with his fellow comfort dogs from his perch in his home office.
With Gov. Charlie Baker urging people to work from home amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Bear and his “colleagues” held a Zoom video conference call this month so their handlers could check in with each other.
“He could definitely hear them so whenever they barked or whined he would look around for them, but I don’t think he actually understood they were there,” said Officer Katherine McCabe, Bear’s handler.
McCabe adopted Bear last March and they usually go as a team to Brookline schools for a variety of programs. They read stories to elementary students and give sessions on substance abuse and internet safety to older students.
Bear, who McCabe says is a “very chill dog,” serves as a bridge between the public and police officers.
“We walk through the school and everyone stops and wants to pet him. We’ll walk through the village to go get a coffee and everyone wants to give him attention,” she said. “It gives people a reason to come up and talk to you when they otherwise wouldn’t have before.”
But the state’s stay-at-home directives mean Bear is now off-limits to the public. He’s now enjoying a vacation, eating and laying on the porch, McCabe said.
McCabe said she and other comfort dog handlers from area police departments try to stay in contact virtually.
“It’s good to check in with each other and let them know we’re still here,” she said. “The dogs can’t interact with people like they used to, but we’re trying to keep the training going so when we do get to the other side of this we can go back to normal.”
Another handler said the virtual meet-up was helpful.
Weymouth Police officer Ryan Hamacher and Charlee, a six-month-old golden retriever, are still in the early days of training. They had been attending a facility in Walpole, but are now training at home.
That’s where other comfort dogs also train. Now they all train alone at home.
The Zoom call allowed him to get help from the other handlers for the exercises.
“They’ve been going to the same training in the same facility for months up until the pandemic hit so we’re trying to keep them socializing with each other,” he said. “It was also good for the handlers to see where everybody’s at with their training and how they’re adapting.”
While Charlee might not have realized that the dogs on the Zoom call were her colleagues, Hamacher said it definitely peaked her interest.
“I can’t say she was recognizing them but she was definitely curious about where all the dog sounds were coming from just like if there was a dog on TV,” he said.
After the meeting, some departments posted photos of the “zooming” dogs on social media. The photos have been a bit hit with the public, who have posted notes of thanks, McCabe said.
“If I can do anything to help [the community] right now, then I can at least post a picture of him,” she said. “If I can get him to sit still to read a book, then I’ll post a video. Anything to bring some positivity.”
Stephanie Purifoy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @StephBPurifoy.