Winston gets sworn in: Amherst PD welcomes new comfort dog to help with community outreach

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  • Amherst Police Officer William Laramee talks about acquiring his new K9 partner, Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, during a meet-and-greet for the department’s new comfort dog on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Sweetser Park. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Police Officer William Laramee holds his K9 partner, Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, during a meet-and-greet for the department’s new comfort dog on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Sweester Park. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • K9 Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, is the Amherst Police Department’s new comfort dog. Photographed during a meet-and-greet in Sweetser Park with his partner, Officer William Laramee, on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • K9 Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, is the Amherst Police Department’s new comfort dog. Photographed during a meet-and-greet in Sweetser Park with his partner, Officer William Laramee, on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Police Officer William Laramee has a meet-and-greet to introduce the department’s new comfort dog, K9 Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Sweester Park. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Police Officer William Laramee has a meet-and-greet in Sweetser Park for the department’s new comfort dog, K9 Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • K9 Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, is the Amherst Police Department’s new comfort dog. Photographed during a meet-and-greet in Sweetser Park with his partner, Officer William Laramee, on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Police Officer William Laramee talks about acquiring his new K9 partner, Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, during a meet-and-greet for the department’s new comfort dog on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Sweetser Park. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Police Officer William Laramee holds his K9 partner, Winston, an 8-week-old chocolate English Labrador Retriever, during a meet-and-greet for the department’s new comfort dog on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Sweester Park. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2020 3:35:11 PM

AMHERST — The day after he was sworn in, K9 Winston — the Amherst Police Department’s new comfort dog — was already making connections with the community.

“Coming in here this morning — just walking in — a person who I never would have talked with otherwise wanted to meet the dog. And then, three young ladies were taking a walk uptown, and they stopped,” said Officer William Laramee, K9 Winston’s handler on Friday. “So already I have … contacts I wouldn’t have otherwise, because of him.”

Just shy of 8 weeks old, and one of six in his litter, Winston is an adorable and mild-mannered English chocolate Labrador retriever who now weighs 13 pounds. Winston’s father, according to Laramee, grew to be over 90 pounds.

An officer with the Amherst police for nearly 26 years, Laramee has served as the neighborhood liaison officer for six years. As a liaison officer, Laramee said he works to strengthen connections between the Amherst community and surrounding universities. It was while serving in this role that he first got the idea to look into getting a comfort dog for the town’s police department, as the University of Massachusetts Amherst has Labrador retrievers that, among other jobs, also work as community outreach dogs. 

“I just saw the connection that it created between people,” Laramee said of service and comfort dogs. “So what was a thought kind of turned into a vision for the police department.”

As of now, the plan is for Laramee to eventually bring Winston to various events and places in the Amherst community so he can interact with residents. Winston will also work to provide comfort and support to the department’s police officers, “in good times and in bad,” Laramee said. Additionally, Winston could be a helpful partner in sensitive case investigations “where someone is apprehensive to talk to the police,” he noted.

“He makes things more comfortable,” Laramee said.

Winston’s arrival comes as two groups of Amherst residents have put pressure on the Town Council and Town Manager Paul Bockelman to change police practices to confront systemic racism and make sure disparate treatment of people of color is not happening. Defund 413 Amherst has advocated for a 52% cut in the department’s budget, while the Racial Equity Task Force has promoted an increase in anti-bias and anti-racism training in town leadership. In response to the concerns, the council implemented a six-month hiring freeze for the police department, meaning two full-time vacancies are being left unfilled through Jan. 31.

Training

Winston will be starting “puppy kindergarten” with Animal Alliances in Northampton for basic obedience training, Laramee said. Eventually, Winston will get special comfort dog training, which may take a couple of years.  

As of now, the full details of Winston’s role at the police department are still being worked out, Laramee said. After all, Winston is just a pup — he apparently sleeps a lot — and Laramee said the two of them are still “feeling each other out.” Laramee said he is responsible for housing and feeding Winston and noted that “this is entirely funded based upon donations from the community — none of this is coming from the operational budget.”

Winston was donated to the police department by Boonefield Labradors in Rindge, New Hampshire, which is owned by breeders Peggi and David Brogan. Peggi Brogan said that they only breed dogs with mellow temperaments, which makes them prime candidates for therapy or comfort dogs. She said that they are breeding their fourth generation of therapy dogs.

Winston is the 12th dog to have been donated to police departments in New England by the breeders, according to Peggi Brogan. She echoed what Laramee said about how dogs can be a good “ice-breaker” for those who may be reticent to talk with police.

“In any traumatic event that they come upon, it just seems like the dogs fill a void,” Peggi Brogan said.

On Thursday, Winston was administered his oath of office, where he was asked to raise his right paw and solemnly swear that he will, to the best of his ability, “unconditionally love and comfort the men and women of the Amherst Police Department and to all others in the community when called upon.”

Winston’s name was chosen in an online poll that received over 6,000 votes. He even has his own Instagram page — @winstonapdmacomfortdog — just like the department’s patrol dogs, K9 Marvin and K9 Dash, who can be found @amherstpolicek9unit.

Laramee said it has been fun to watch the community be so involved in Winston’s naming.

“He’s doing exactly what we thought he would do,” which is to “unite people,” Laramee said. “So wherever he wants to take this, I’ll follow.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. 


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