New Bartlett police dog 'brings a smile to everyone's face'
A furry new face can be seen around the Bartlett Police Department these days.
Maverick is a 14-month-old golden retriever and the department's new "facility dog." While most police dogs are trained to sniff for drugs, track people or help find bodies -- like Bartlett's police dog Luther -- Maverick's role is a little different. He'll serve as an ambassador to the community.
"Maverick is not trained to defend," Sgt. Tom Alagna said.
Alagna, who is the dog's primary handler, said Maverick will attend community events and connect with residents the same way an officer would.
"So far, members of the community that have met him have loved him," Alagna said. "He brings a smile to everyone's face ... people see him and they light up."
While his registered name with the American Kennel Club is a take on a famous line from the 1986 Tom Cruise movie "Top Gun," these days he's simply known by Cruise's character's nickname in the film.
Unlike the character in the movie though, Alagna said this Maverick is "very calm" and spends most of his days sleeping in various offices.
Maverick stills loves to play, though, and still has his puppy tendencies -- tug-of-war and trying to chase birds are some of his favorite activities. He's big but still thinks he's a lap dog, Alagna said.
Maverick's role is to provide emotional support during times of stress, grief or trauma, for both survivors and officers.
He was donated by Canines 4 Comfort, a volunteer-run nonprofit in Round Lake. The organization provides service animals for those with emotional disabilities, oftentimes veterans and children for free, if they qualify.
Lisa Wernli, executive director at Canines 4 Comfort, said the organization recently expanded its mission to include schools and first responder groups.
"Offering facility dog placements enables our nonprofit to extend our reach," she said.
Maverick is the first Canines 4 Comfort dog that has been trained specifically for a police department.
Wernli said it's important that Maverick serves a dual purpose: mitigating difficult situations in the community and bringing goodwill to neighborhoods, but also providing a sense of relief and decompression for officers returning from stressful calls.
Bartlett is the latest suburban police department to deploy a therapy dog. Traditional police dog work has changed along with local, state and federal drug laws.
Alagna said department leaders had discussed getting a facility dog for several years when the opportunity to work with Canines 4 Comfort came about.
"They've been absolutely incredible, seeing the amount of training and effort they put in to make sure they find the right fit for the right family," Alagna said.
Maverick was selected based on several characteristics. The department was looking for a bigger dog, and one that had a mellow demeanor. Maverick's mother, Belle, is a service dog, too, which is where he gets his "amazing" disposition, Wernli said.
"He's just a really, really good dog," she said.
Maverick was selected as a puppy to serve as a facility dog.
"Based on our needs, they determined Maverick would be a great fit," Alagna said.
Maverick's training began with the department last spring, Alagna said. He also trained with several families since he was small, starting with "down and dirty" obedience like potty training.
Canine 4 Comfort service dogs are also brought to a number of public settings to get acclimated to different situations, including stores, nursing homes and schools. Maverick was also taught techniques like " deep pressure therapy," meant to calm those in distress.
"That way when they graduate, they are desensitized to these things," Wernli said.
Maverick also received the AKC's "Canine Good Citizen" certification.
Several weeks ago the department officially adopted him, and Maverick has since been transitioning from living with Alagna to living at the police station.
And to make it official, Maverick will be sworn in at Tuesday's village board meeting.
"He's really well-received, and the officers enjoy having him here," Alagna said.