The Waterford Police Department has a new addition to their K-9 unit, but this dog's job is different than anything the department has seen.
"Hodges is definitely not the typical K-9 officer, but he is definitely vital to our police department," said Officer Eric Fredricks, Waterford's community engagement officer and Hodges' handler.
Hodges, a Black Labrador Retriever, is a service dog. He has been with the department for about two weeks and will focus on officer wellness, victim wellness, and community engagement.
"It's just another vital tool that the police department can use to build with the community," said Fredricks.
Hodges was donated to the Waterford Police Department through a program called Puppies Behind Bars. According to its website, the program trains prison inmates to raise service dogs. The service dogs then help wounded war veterans and first responders.
"Which, of course, officers deal with high-stress situations, work long hours," said Fredricks. "So Hodges will go around the police department and engage with all the officers."
The dogs are also trained to comfort victims of crimes.
"Domestic violence victims, sexual assault victims. He knows special commands where he will kind of curl up next to someone so they can feel comfortable telling their story," said Fredricks.
Hodges is one of eight service dogs from Puppies Behind Bars working with police departments in Connecticut.
The Town of Groton Police Department was one of the first departments in the state to work with the program. Officer Chase joined the department in 2020.
"Hugely valuable," said Officer Heather McLelland. "For our police officers, the department, the community. It's such an easy way to connect."
Officer Chase has worked with families in the local courthouse, visited schools, and helped first responders after dealing with traumatic events.
McLelland said she is excited to see more departments, including Waterford, bring on service dogs. Officer Chase even attended Officer Hodges' swearing-in ceremony.
"I'm excited because now we have another dog in the area," said McLelland. "It's just going to be another tool for them to use. Another way for them to engage with the community."