Walpole Police Department Kickstarts a New Collaboration of Police Departments and Service Dogs

The arrival of the beloved Rebel, the Walpole Police Department service dog, has not only built a bridge between high school students and the Police Department, but she has also influenced other towns to become involved in the collaboration of police departments and community service dogs.

Officer McCabe poses with Rebel’s relative, therapy dog Bear, during the Boston Marathon (Photo/Katie McCabe).

Walpole has spearheaded this collaborative program with the help of Golden Opportunities for Independence (GOFI). GOFI’s main purpose is to empower people with a disability to live a more fulfilling life with the love and assistance of a dog and a mentor, but has also begun contributing their dogs to other police departments outside of Walpoletown police departments such as Brookline, Franklin and Mansfield.

School Resource Officer Thomas Hart, Rebel’s handler, visited the GOFI farm in the spring of 2017 as teacher and there, Hart saw a collaborative opportunity for many stakeholders in the school community.

“Rebel’s main purpose is to bridge the gap between the police and the students and their families, and the community as well. She’s kind of like an ice breaker,” Hart said. “She has brought together the police and students, so she helps to start conversations and to work to build stronger relationships.”

GOFI is run by Pauline Hoegler, who has been breeding Golden Retrievers for over 20 years. As someone who has perceived the personal benefits that dogs have on their owners and on strangers, Hoegler wanted to use these dogs to create better lives for individuals with both physical and mental disabilities.

“Dogs are very supportive. They are non-judgemental, and they help us relax,” Hoegler said. “When dogs look at us, oxytocin, a hormone that causes us to relax, is released, and being able to focus on a dog takes us out of whatever troubled place we are in.”

The news of Rebel’s impact on the Walpole Community spread like wildfire, and interest in the Community Resource Dog Program spiked immediately.

“The requests for information into what we are doing with Rebel continue to grow week by week,” Hart said. “It’s really nice to see so many towns and police departments who are beginning to see the benefits of the Community Resource Dog program.”

Out of the many towns interested, Franklin, Brookline and Mansfield have adopted their own dogs and have become an active part of the program. Brookline adopted Bear, Rebel’s brother, this past year and her presence has been nothing but positive throughout the community. Bear’s handler, Officer Katie McCabe, was very eager to become involved in the program after meeting service dogs at a training.

“Rebel and Officer Hart definitely inspired me to put in for the position,” McCabe said. “People who would not normally approach a police officer to talk, will just come up and start talking to me so they can see Bear. We have been [in a situation] where someone has been escalated, and being able to sit and talk about Bear, you can see how quickly they de-escalate.”

The Franklin Police Department adopted a dog as well, who they named Ben Franklin. Instead of using GOFI, the department chose to get Ben from Modova Kennels out of Rhode Island. James Mucciarone, Ben’s handler, has been the Franklin School Resource Officer (SRO) for 12 years but has never felt he had the tools to help many situations until Ben came along.

“Ben’s first call was two weeks on the job. When a second grader ran from one of our schools, I arrived with Ben, and he helped get the student back to school. Four weeks on the job, we had a seventh grader run from the school, and Ben helped her back to school,” Mucciarone said. “Ben has touched so many people already from special needs kids to the assisted living facilities to our senior center, and even our own police department has changed. He brings comfort, happiness and joy to the Franklin community and more.”

Dogs have always shared a strong bond with humans, but now they can be so much more than pets: they can de-escalate situations, serve as an ice breaker and connect students with officers. Rebel and the Walpole PD, with the help of GOFI, have pioneered the service dog field by modeling how dogs can really make a difference in people’s lives.

“It was just a crazy idea that just popped into my head and with the help of [Walpole High School nurse Rachel Jackson], and the people at GOFI, we made it a reality and I thought it would be a hit, but I didn’t know it would be this popular, and I didn’t know it would build like this,” Hart said. “If [community members] remember a friendly Golden, it helps to ease their tension working with the police and wanting to reach out to us when they need help. That’s what we are here for.”