By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
NAUGATUCK — Police Chief Steven Hunt summed up the value of the department’s latest four-legged recruit pretty succinctly.
“It’s always better when there’s a dog around,” Hunt said.
The Naugatuck Police Department has welcomed Indy, a 17-month-old black Labrador, into its ranks. Indy’s first official day as the department’s new service K-9 was Sept. 3.
Indy’s role with the department is different than the one played by Vane, a German Shepard patrol dog used in the apprehension of suspects, and Judge, a drug-detecting black Labrador that is also being trained to sniff out evidence and track missing people.
Indy is trained as a service dog to work with first responders and veterans. His role with the department is a more therapeutic one — promoting wellness for first responders, providing comfort to trauma victims, and interacting with the public to help build community relations.
“He’s a lover not a fighter,” said Officer Danielle Durette, a three-year member of the force and Indy’s handler.
Indy knows more than 90 commands, Durette said. As Durette sat on the floor of the department’s training room, she told Indy “tell me a story,” and he lay in her lap and cuddled with her. Durette said this action can help comfort a child who has experienced trauma.
In a case like this, Hunt added, the hope is the victim feels comfortable enough to open up and speak with officers.
Indy will also help officers destress and boost morale around the department, officials said. Indy won’t be exclusive to Naugatuck. Officials said he will be available to emergency agencies and police departments throughout the region.
“This is something we’re hoping to be available for everybody’s mental health and well-being,” Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister said.
Puppies Behind Bars, a New York-based nonprofit organization, donated Indy to the borough after vetting the department and Durette. The organization trains inmates in prisons in New York and New Jersey to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and first responders, as well as explosive-detection canines for law enforcement, according to its website.
Indy was raised and trained in a men’s maximum security prison until about three weeks ago when Durette took him, she said. Durette went through two weeks of training, which was led by an inmate in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York.
Hunt said Drew Marine, a Naugatuck company, made a “very generous” donation to the department to help pay for veterinarian and food expenses. He declined to say how much the company donated.
Naugatuck is one of two departments — the other is the Groton Police Department — to receive a dog from Puppies Behind Bars, officials said. The University of Connecticut also has a service dog, but from a different organization, according to officials.
Indy has a cosmic connection to the Naugatuck Police Department. His birthday is March 17, which is the same date former borough Officer Nancy Nichols was killed in the line of duty in 1991 when she was hit by a car during a traffic stop.
Although Indy has only just joined the force, Durette said she can tell he has already made an impact around the department.
“The reaction when people see a dog, your little kid comes out, you know, you do your little squeaky voice and you want to squeeze their face,” she said. “I mean these are all big, tough cops and they want to pet him and play ball with him.”