By Luke Whitehouse

Photo Gallery of Comfort Dog Ceremony…

For many college students, mental health is an uphill battle and can affect a person every day. Whether it’s going through the stress of a rigorous school year or even personal problems, it’s all too common for students to keep these things to themselves. 

Over the past few years, a lot has been done both on the Springfield College campus and in healthcare systems to assist in the betterment of mental health for all – creating a healthy environment where reaching out is encouraged. But sometimes just talking to someone isn’t enough. In some situations, a calming presence can be very heartening.

Throughout the last handful of months, the Springfield College Police Department, in conjunction with MiraVista, a behavioral health provider in Holyoke, Mass., had begun the search for a comfort dog to assist students here on campus. 

“Dogs are natural comforters,” said Lieutenant Jack Vanasse, who vouched heavily to bring a dog to campus. “When I came here and I heard a whisper of a comfort dog I said I’m in.”

MiraVista’s goal is to help improve the mental wellness for people of all ages – which is why they were very eager to help. 

“When [Lieutenant Vanasse] began to have conversations about the dog it was an absolutely easy thing for MiraVista to do,” Kim Lee, who spoke on behalf of MiraVista, said. “We know the challenge that exists among college campuses across the country when it comes to mental wellness…And so we were honored to be able to play a role in bringing a dog to Springfield College.” 

On Tuesday, a little Australian labradoodle was introduced to students and staff in the Dodge room, located upstairs in the Student Union. 

One problem facing the department was a name for the dog. To solve that problem, there was a campus-wide poll put out to students to vote on a name. 

The conclusion? Rookie. 

As the newly named Rookie made his way into a jam-packed room,  so did some of his friends. 

Many dogs and handlers from other colleges and law enforcement agencies made the trip to Springfield  for this wonderful event. The colleges that were represented included Bridgewater State, Brown, Yale, Harvard and Western New England as well as the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department and the Groton (Conn.) Police Department.

“Within comfort dog law enforcement there is a tight kinship,” Vanasse said. “And so I want to thank you all for coming.” 

Rookie will go through 36 weeks of training as he learns basic obedience, socializing skills and advanced manner classes. Officer Steven Martel will be Rookies handler. Rookie will be available during the second and third shift – running from 3 p.m till 7 a.m – for students that may be going through any mental health struggles, as well as anyone who may need some comfort at a particularly stressful time. 

Rookie was donated from Green Mountain Labradoodles in Essex Junction, Vt. and officer Martel made sure to thank them. 

“Without them this probably wouldn’t have been possible,” he said. “Their generosity is greatly appreciated.”

Lieutenant Vanasse thanked both President Mary-Beth Cooper and Chief-of-Police Joseph Tiraboschi for supporting this project and allowing this to come together.