Comfort dog Baxter the newest member of Maine’s Department of Public Safety

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 7:46 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - The first of its kind in Maine and in New England.

A comfort dog that will be comforting the dispatchers after a difficult call at Maine Emergency Call centers.

A five-month-old chocolate lab is the newest member of Maine’s Department of Public Safety.

Baxter will become the state’s first comfort dog, serving at Maine’s three emergency communication centers.

Dispatchers help save lives.

It’s a high stress job as dispatchers must remain calm and get help to people after receiving traumatic information over the phone.

Valarie Lafferty is a dispatcher.

“Some of the high stress calls would be the vehicle accidents,” Lafferty said.

She says they mostly deal with the unknown.

“Higher stress because we are not there to see what’s going on. Sometimes the calls we get for those are just passersby, so it’s a lot of unknown until we can get rescue team on scene,” Lafferty said.

That’s where Baxter steps in. He’s now undergoing training in New Hampshire. His role will be to comfort dispatchers after a difficult call.

“He knows how to pick up on some of these emotions,” Laura Baker, Hero pup said.

“A person with the most elevated state of emotion whether it is happy or sad, he will pick up on that person.”

The program is made possible through various organizations including AT&T which is financially supporting Baxter’s training. Owen Smith is the president at AT&T Maine.

“The dispatching center, they are taking critical calls, high stress. Many times they keep that silence within them, that burden that they carry,” Smith said.

Once the vest is on Baxter, Brodie Hinckley, Director of Communication for all three centers and Baxter’s handler, says he knows what to do.

“The dog has unconditional love,” Hinckley said.

“They don’t care what your background is, where you’ve been, what you’ve done. They just realize that something is not right with this person, and they just go up to the person and nudge them. Just the patting of the dog flushes everything away.”

He looks forward to next April when Baxter will begin his new role.

“Them knowing that if I’m having a bad day, Baxter is coming in today,” Hinckley said.

“I can just give him as much cuddles as I want. Those are the powerful impacts. He does not know it yet, but he is going to have a powerful impact in the center.”