Comfort dog joins police force in San Rafael
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - San Rafael has a new addition to its police department: a comfort dog.
Two-year-old labrador-retriever mix Blue Bayou joined the force a few weeks ago.
He won't be sniffing out suspects or contraband. His speciality is lifting a paw to shake hands, and enjoying unlimited petting.
"He's not a patrol dog, all he does is comfort," handler Lynn Murphy tells people, "and his job is to give love and get love."
Murphy is the San Rafael Police Department's mental health liason, often doing outreach with the homeless and mentally ill in the downtown area.
She notices that approaching people with Blue on his leash helps forge a connection.
"There are people who might not neccessarily look at me and not want to talk to me, but they'll look at him, and it's an icebreaker," said Murphy, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist.
She encourages people to approach and pet Blue, who has a very calm, affectionate temperament.
"This dog is special and he knows when people need a little extra love."
Blue was raised in Colorado by a Guide Dog trainer, then moved to Oregon and was paired with a vision-impaired client for 8 months.
His suitability came into question because he likes to pick things up off the ground and scavenge for food, putting him and his client at risk.
Accompanying Murphy into meetings, he works the room for snacks.
Blue also fetches and delivers documents inside the police department- with a treat as his reward.
"When he came back to Guide Dogs they knew he would be a good fit with us because he's confident, very social, and he loves to be around people," said Murphy.
In addition to community outreach, Blue is a calming influence for police staff, especially 911 dispatchers, who handle a variety of unpredictable calls.
He has a bed and some toys in the dispatch center, one of his favorite places to nap.
"How can you feel stress when you've got him right next to you?", said dispatcher Saskia Van Buuren.
When she crouched to greet Blue, he gave her a "hug", putting his front legs on her shoulders.
"Even when we're busy, we just turn around and see his face and it makes a big difference honestly, it's so nice having him in here."
Blue occasionally ventures into the chief's office.
"Comfort is a perfect word for him. He brings comfort wherever he is," said San Rafael Police Chief Diana Bishop.
"It's just a new way of doing business for us, and he's a joy."
It's the first time Guide Dogs for the Blind- based in San Rafael- has provided a retired guide dog to law enforcement....
Already, the fire department is inquiring about a comfort dog for its department as well.
Blue, a member of Murphy's household when he's not on duty, has made it full circle, returning to San Rafael.
"He moved around and he's just expanding his family," said Murphy, "and now he's in his forever home and forever job."