In a Franklin elementary school, a young boy with special needs was screaming and crying. Nobody could comfort him, not even his teachers or a police officer who was called to help.
Just as the situation verged on uncontrollable, the newest member of the police department arrived on the scene. The presence of Ben Franklin, a 5-month-old golden retriever puppy, immediately calmed the child.
“As soon as we brought Ben, the boy looked at the officer and snapped out of it. He said ‘Can I pet him?’ and the officer said ‘Yes, if you’re good,’” said Mark Manocchio, a lieutenant in the Franklin Police Department. “The teachers and police couldn’t calm him down, but he saw the dog and it was like magic.”
This is exactly the reason Ben was brought into the force: to make members of the community feel good. Ben is one of the few police therapy dogs in the state, joining black goldendoodle Douglas in Northampton and standard poodle Larry in Randolph.
While law enforcement typically uses working dogs such as German shepherds that sniff out drugs and track missing persons, the idea of a dog solely focused on community outreach is picking up steam.
“Since we got the media attention, I’ve gotten calls from North Attleborough about getting a therapy dog,” Manocchio said. “I got a call from a private attorney law office in Springfield. They wanted to get a dog and donate it to the Springfield Police Department.”
The difference between service dogs, comfort dogs, and therapy dogs is nuanced. A service dog is trained to help its owner perform particular tasks, such as retrieving the mail. A comfort dog is meant to relieve its owner’s stress and anxiety, while a therapy dog is trained to do the same, but for everyone, not just its owner.
According to UCLA Health , petting animals promotes the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin in the human brain, all of which are linked to an elevation in mood. Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to be especially beneficial to children with autism and adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Franklin’s police department began to consider a therapy dog after Officer James Mucciarone’s wife caught wind of one: a golden retriever named Rebel in Walpole. However, the endeavor didn’t seem affordable. One business gave Manocchio a quote of $15,000 for a fully trained therapy dog.
Luckily, Fran Masters, owner of MasterPeace Dog Training facility in Franklin, offered to do the training for free. She even spearheaded the search for the perfect puppy, finding Ben at one of her favorite breeders. Not only is he particularly laid back, but Ben is a descendant of a Westminster Dog Show champion. He cost $2,500.
“He’s bombproof, so to speak. He walked in at 12 weeks old and was calm, cool, and collected,” Masters said. “Golden retrievers are just genetically mushes. We wanted a dog able to be handled by seniors and children and be OK with that.”
Ben is still only in puppy kindergarten, learning to come when called, sit, and walk on a leash without pulling. Masters estimates he has about a year of training left before he can be officially recognized as a therapy dog. In order to be certified by Therapy Dogs International, he must complete tests such as tolerating people petting him from all sides and waiting to take a treat until the proper command is given.
Manocchio hopes Ben helps the community realize that police are just people doing a job. As new as the puppy is to Franklin, his presence already has drawn flocks of people wherever he and his handlers go. So far, he has been brought to the local library and regional high school, as well as the senior center to visit a group of individuals with memory loss. Manocchio calls Ben an “icebreaker.”
“I think it could benefit every police department, if they have people to take the dog,” Masters said. “The cop walking into a school might be scary, but the cop walking in with a sweet golden retriever automatically comes across as friendly.”