Everywhere we’ve gone, people love him. Students who may not have interacted with me (in uniform) before, are now coming up and asking to pet him, even taking photos with us.
Some people, when they see a police officer, do their best to avoid contact.
It’s a reaction Bridgewater State Police Captain Ryan Tepper and canine officer Zach hope to change.
“When people interact with police officers, it’s often under stressful circumstances, when they are having their worst day,” Tepper said. “But police officers aren’t bad. We truly are trying to help people and get them on the right path.”
To bridge the gap between law enforcement and the BSU community, the university’s police department brought Zach, an 18-month black Labrador retriever, onboard.
“We are proud to say that this program is another BSU first,” said Police Chief David H. Tillinghast. “We are the first police department among the state universities to institute a canine outreach program.”
Since arriving at BSU in September, Zach has worked hard as a community resource dog. Together with Tepper, he’s been invited to many events, and even shares the places they visit on his own Instagram account.
“I anticipated and hoped that when Zach and I are out, that he would help break down barriers, and he’s done just that,” Tepper said. “Everywhere we’ve gone, people love him. Students who may not have interacted with me (in uniform) before, are now coming up and asking to pet him, even taking photos with us.”
Zach has also been trained to detect explosive material. His nose can sniff out potential danger to help ensure nothing dangerous is on campus.
“We have wanted a dual-purpose canine for a long time,” said Deputy Chief Glen Anderson. “The primary purpose is to serve as an outreach canine, something that helps us be more approachable within our community, but we also wanted the dog to help keep our community safe.”
To find Zach, the BSUPD reached out to the Massachusetts State Police bomb squad, with whom they have a long-standing relationship.
The state police connected them with Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that trains inmates to raise service dogs for wounded veterans and first responders, as well as explosive-detection canines for law enforcement.
Puppies stay and live with the inmates starting at the age of 8 weeks until approximately 24 months, with some, like Zach leaving sooner.
“The program is very impressive,” Anderson said.
Over the summer Zach and Tepper completed a 12-week explosive detective training class with the Massachusetts State police where the duo received perfect scores.
“Tepper is an amazing canine handler and Zach is unbelievable. We really could not have gotten a better handler or dog,” Anderson said.
Tepper encourages BSU students and community members to come up and say hi if they cross paths with Zach, but to make sure and ask first before approaching.
“Come on up and pet him, we are always happy to meet new people, never be shy,” Tepper said, adding that Zach’s presence so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The (law enforcement) profession itself is a service profession,” he added. “By trade we are public servants, and our job is to serve and protect the community and to have relationships with people who will open up to us. By doing this it helps us serve them better.”
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