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Baxter, Maine's first comfort dog, prepares for duty

Baxter has a little more than six months left of training before he starts visiting workers at dispatch centers in Augusta, Bangor, and Houlton on a regular basis.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Baxter is an energetic five-month-old chocolate lab that loves people. He's also preparing for a long career as a comfort dog for the Maine Department of Public Safety's dispatch centers in Augusta, Bangor, and Houlton.

As Maine's first comfort dog, he'll spend his days on the job comforting those who spend their days comforting and helping others at the other end of an emergency call. 

Valerie Lafferty has been an emergency communications specialist at the Maine Department of Public Safety for seven months. She said answering calls from people in an emergency can be stressful.

"Trying to provide them reassurance that we're doing everything we can to help them, it can be difficult and challenging," Lafferty said. 

Lafferty said her department is really looking forward to Baxter joining their team. 

"It's really exciting to have an animal that can come in and give anybody the comfort that they are seeking when they're dealing with a stressful day," Lafferty said. 

This program was made possible through funding from AT&T. 

Once fully trained, Baxter will live with his handler, Brodie Hinckley, and his family full-time. 

"You can see right away when that dog goes in there the atmosphere changes," Hinckley said. 

Hinckley is the director of the Maine Bureau of Emergency Communications. Baxter will be able to live with him once he is a year old, but for now, he's being trained by Laura Barker, founder of the non-profit Hero Pups, at their facility in New Hampshire. 

"We want to make sure that the dog can transition smoothly to be with Brodie in his regular day-to-day life," Barker said. 

Barker said Baxter was selected for this role because of his natural ability to sense people's emotions. 

"We wanted a dog that was going to be really stable in that environment but [has] enough stamina to visit all the dispatchers. I expect that he will have a long and healthy and helpful life here," Barker said.

"He doesn't know it yet, but he's gonna have a powerful impact in the center," Hinckley said. 

Baxter has a little more than six months left of training before he can start reporting for duty in April. 

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