PITTSFIELD – When Officer Darren Derby steps into his cruiser, he doesn’t do it alone.
A fluffy, brown standard poodle named Winston follows. At 35 pounds, Winston is the Pittsfield Police Department’s newest addition.
Pittsfield Police Officer Darren Derby works with Winston, a standard poodle in comfort dog training. Winston is still a puppy and …
Pittsfield is one of a handful of Berkshire County police departments that are adopting a new breed of police dog – comfort dogs.
While on patrol on a crisp autumn morning, Derby explained how he sees Winston giving solace to various corners of the community while he is still training. He’s reassured a distressed veteran in Soldier On and children who are struggling in local schools. And he even influences other members of the department.
“He helped with mental illness. I went to elementary schools where kids have some problems, ”said Derby. “They are angry, they yell at people. And I saw the teacher pull a kid aside, and again Winston just sat with no training and just let the kid stroke his head. “
Derby is no stranger to the community police force. On Facebook, he shares his interactions with members of the community with his 128,000 followers. And Winston has been featured prominently lately.
On a new day, Winston lies in a kennel in the back of the police vehicle that bears his name on the side.
Derby patrols the streets along its pie-shaped beat in the western part of town, stopping briefly on West Housatonic Street to clear stones from the pavement. He stops at Amy Court to let Winston out while the dog resists Derby’s attempt at playing with a green toy instead of keeping a keen eye on a bag of goodies.
Back in his patrol car, a Taylor Swift song is playing on the radio and Derby explains why police dogs are making their home in Berkshire County.
He said a “new generation” of leaders have risen to the top of various departments, a generation that is in some ways different from the “old school” that it was “10 years, 15 years ago”.
The minds of younger bosses and overseers, he said, seem more open to new ideas around police work. The dogs fit into the picture, he said.
“[Winston] made it possible for me to get closer to a lot of people I wouldn’t have gotten closer to, even if I’m a public relations person, ”said Derby. “Dogs somehow have that – they provide an opportunity to help people take off their guard.”
Winston was donated to the department by Lee Kohlenberger, a former Pittsfield firefighter. His ten-year term in office was characterized by what is known as a prevailing “tough-up mentality”.
The approach of stifling emotions after exposing the tragedies known in the industry as “critical incidents” has begun to give way, said Kohlenberger, who left and opened the fire department Berkshire poodle.
“It’s a different ball game today and guys, men and women, are getting the help they need so they don’t go home and drink or hang out with the family or be a snap because it was me,” he said . “I was down, I was down this street. And in the end it was too much for me. All of that came together. So after 10 years I left. “
Kohlberger and his wife Kaitlyn started breeding in 2010 and recently had a vision to donate their standard poodles to first aid agencies.
They donated Winston to the Pittsfield Police, a poodle that still gives a name to the Dalton Police Department, and are asking the heads of agencies interested in adopting a comfort poodle to come forward. The Great Barrington Police Department recently welcomed its second comfort dog, a Black Lab named Archer, after the early loss of Beko, who was Berkshire County’s first K-9 police therapy.
“If I can make a person who is having a miserable day smile for five minutes when they hold this dog, it’s worth every dollar to me,” said Kohlenberger. “Because I was the person in the situation who had no reason to smile and at some low point in my career as a firefighter would have liked to have had a reason to.”
Winston was named in honor of Michael Winston, a Pittsfield police officer lieutenant who died three years ago at the age of 55. When Winston is at work, he’s with Derby, who said he and Police Chief Michael Wynn “raise” the pooch – Winston lives with Wynn’s family, which includes another dog he can play with.
Back in his car, Derby sheds light on what he says is ubiquitous in his own profession: mental health. Three years ago, Derby discovered he did not want to leave the house, then the sociable officer was given the surprising diagnosis of depression.
“We see everything; you see everything. I’ve seen murders, I’ve seen hangings, I’ve seen babies die, I’ve seen everything, ”he said. “I think what happens in the end is that we just get that thick layer of skin.”
That skin can be hard to pierce, but Derby says he saw die-hard officers soften in the presence of Winston.
“He’s for us too, you know,” said Derby. “I’ll take him to the train station. And you know cops are, we’re thick-skinned. So we put on this armor first. When I got a dog, I heard, ‘Oh what is he going to do, lick me to death? But now they just say, ‘Hey, where is the dog?’ So it’s already working. “