Milford adds new kind of K9 to the force -- an emotional support dog

MILFORD — Police officers recently found themselves in a difficult situation trying to calm down a boy who was threatening to hurt himself, so they called the department's newly appointed K9 Wintson to help.

"Winston and I walk in, and the juvenile opened his arms right up and asked if he could pet the dog, and I said 'absolutely,'" said Officer James Cox, who is partnered with K9 Winston's partner. 

K9 Winston is the police department's first emotional support/therapeutic dog in their ranks.

"He's been worth his weight in gold already," Cox said. "He's trained to be a service dog, but we'll use him in an emotional support and therapeutic capacity."

He pointed to the recent incident as an example. In that case cox was told the boy was not a fan of police officers, but did like dogs.

"Winston laid down next to him, and he was petting Winston as the officer was conducting the investigation," Cox said, adding the officer was able to complete the investigation and the boy was willing to speak with the officer.

Cox decided to pitch the idea for an emotional support animal within the department to Police Chief Keith Mello last year.

"I've always had a passion for working with a K9, and after about 10 years, I was looking for another way to make that happen outside of the prototypical K9 you see with the police department," Cox said. "I saw emotional support service dogs being utilized in other departments in the state, and it intrigued me to do a little research on it."

Cox said the chief and deputy chief fully supported his vision and gave him the go-ahead to make it a reality.

"I did a little more research, and I found an organization that donates these dogs to police departments called Puppies Behind Bars," Cox said. "There are 12 other dogs that came from the Puppies Behind Bars program in Connecticut."

Some other departments with emotional support dogs are Hartford, Yale University Police in New Haven, Waterford and Groton.

Puppies Behind Bars is a nonprofit organization training incarcerated individuals to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and first responders, therapy dogs for police departments, and explosive-detection canines for law enforcement.

Cox applied to be part of the program and was accepted to start taking classes with the organization in last month.

"I spent a few weeks training with Winston," he said.

He returned to work on Feb. 22 with Winston in tow.

"So now we are trying to get our feet wet and see what Winston is going to offer to our community," Cox said. "I'm excited, Winston is excited, and everybody in the department is excited."

Even though K9 Winston has been on the job for a couple of weeks, he's already made a significant impact in the police department, Cox said.

"We have roll call or briefings where everyone gets information for their shift. I've been sitting in on those, and it has lifted the department's morale," he said. "I bring him into all the units and offices around the building, and people smile and pet him when they see him."

K9 Winston has also been a success in schools, Cox said.

"I'm a little of a bigger guy and have a deep voice, so I can come off a little intimidating to a child," he said. "I walked into a school the other day with Winston, and the focus was on Winston."

He said that gave children who might have been afraid to speak with him a chance to ask questions.

"Winston is bridging the gap between the community and me and making me as an officer more approachable," Cox said. "I also think it will make all officers affiliated with dogs like Winston approachable as well."