ST. ALBANS CITY — He’s coming up in his first year of service at Bellows Free Academy and he’s every student’s best friend: he’s Murphy the therapy lab, ever the right hand of St. Albans Cpl. Kristine Koch.
“He’s always here with me, and he goes with me on patrol,” Koch said. “It’s just really cool to see (him work)...it’s just a dog, but a lot of people would rather pet a dog than talk to us. It really calms them.”
Anyone visiting St. Albans might see Murphy trotting down Main Street, sitting down to a cup of coffee with his boss or greeting students as they enter BFA, a smile on his face as each student pets him "hello."
"He brings a new toy with him every he goes to school," Koch said.
Though Koch has been a longtime owner of labrador retrievers, Murphy’s calm demeanor and happy personality made him the perfect fit for therapy dog service, so Koch entered her new best friend for lessons at Therapy Dogs of Vermont.
“It’s a lot of individual training,” Koch said. “They get him to sit, they bring in props, see if they can get your dog to spook easy, stuff like that. After a couple of hours through the test, they pass him. If he passes, you do three walkthroughs of a nursing home with someone who has already had training.”
Murphy passed his first two walkthroughs with flying colors, but with COVID-19 came the closure of many of his usual visits, which stalled his final test before he could be awarded his official title of therapy dog.
But Koch said the head trainer was so impressed with Murphy’s success and had such confidence in his demeanor that Therapy Dogs of Vermont was willing to certify him anyway.
Murphy and his kids
Cpl. Koch interviewed for the position of school resource officer for BFA St. Albans, and when she discovered that having a therapy dog at school was already a topic of discussion, a lightbulb when on above her head: Murphy would be a perfect fit.
“Getting pet a lot, all the smells and the noises...it’s strenuous for the dog,” Koch said. “He’s handled it great.”
Daily, Murphy can be found at doorways and hallways, ever the guardian of BFA students and their peers and happy to lay down on any available lap and comfort anyone in need.
“Murphy just knows,” Koch said. “He will lay down with them, on top of them (if they’re experiencing a panic attack or an anxiety attack, and they give permission).”
Koch said they’ve sent thorough information to the school community asking permission to be present, especially in the event that someone has allergies, but that they’ve never run into a problem.
Of the two of them, Murphy is by far the most popular one, Koch said.
“He knows his spots where he’s going to get a treat...he goes right into the guidance office,” Koch said. “He makes his rounds into certain classrooms...right in the middle of teaching…(they say) it’s a much needed break.”
A national treasure
Koch and Murphy are just one team of a constantly expanding pool of therapy dog and officer combos as part of a new effort to implement more mental and emotional wellness initiatives into law enforcement across the country: Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy and BFA Fairfax SRO Karry Andileigh said she plans to pursue the development of a canine therapy program as well.
Through social media and online interactions, Koch said she and Murphy have made contact with groups and therapy work teams around the country, and are attending a symposium next month to bring some of them together in their ongoing work.
For now, Koch said she's planning Murphy's birthday party: he's turning 4 this month.