It has a tail that it loves to wag, floppy ears, shiny black fur, and a long pink tongue that hangs out of the side of its mouth.
But Sarge’s best feature might be his nose. It is what leads to him and, by extension, to his handler, Northeastern University Police Department Sgt. Joe Corbett – Via Northeastern’s Boston location on one of his daily walks.
Watching him move, it would seem that Sarge is on a mission to sniff out every square inch of campus.
“It’s very curious,” says Corbett. “He wants to review everything; he has a great drive to play and to hunt.”
Sarge, a 1-year-old American Labrador Retriever, is the newest canine addition to Northeastern University’s Community Engagement Unit. Along with his new friend Cooper, once he completes his training, Sarge will work as an emotional support animal for the Northeast community.
He certainly has the personality to fit into the job. This is only his first week on campus, but Sarge already fits the bill, happily introducing himself to anyone who stops by for a pat.
And he loves to explore. Sometimes Corbett struggles to hold Sarge back as he tugs on the leash and sticks his nose out to sniff the grass for rabbits and squirrels. When he sees one, he freezes, his ears perk up and his body stretches from nose to tail.
Sarge’s curiosity is one of the things that made him a perfect candidate for the Puppies Behind Bars training program as a pup. Before joining the Northeast community, 8-week-old Sarge was paired with an inmate at the New York State Penitentiary for Women, who trained him in basic commands. During the week, Sarge was “traded” with other inmates who took him to his jobs to acclimate to different environments. On weekends they took him into the city to see trains, bikes, children, and everything else.
Sarge’s background makes Corbett’s job easier. “Tell him to go to bed and you’ll walk right into his cage,” he says. Sarge spends the day at the Community Engagement office with Cooper and Corbett, but when he’s not working, he lives with Corbett and his family. It’s nice to have a pre-trained dog that doesn’t jump up or chew on furniture, just stuffed toys, which he destroys, says Corbett.
There are a few habits he hopes Sarge will outgrow. Freezing when he sees a squirrel is one of them, as is jumping into the koi pond, eyes fixed on the well-fed fish.
But Sarge isn’t done becoming his full, slimy self just yet. With long legs and big paws, he is still growing; when he reaches his full size, he will weigh up to 80 pounds. And starting in August, Sarge will train for three months to learn explosives detection, a useful skill for big Northeastern events.
When he returns to campus, he will be available for scheduled petting sessions and will appear at scheduled meet and greets.
That’s where the other half of his personality, his calm, will come in handy.
“It’s pretty quiet,” says Corbett. “He will run non-stop for a tennis ball, but then he will sit down. Last night, he sat on my daughter’s lap and she read to him.”
During Sarge’s walk across campus, a student reached out to pet him. He gave him her paw. “I miss my dog,” he said.
“I get it a lot,” says Corbett. Students often come to him saying that they miss his pets, or that they are looking for Cooper to help them through a difficult situation or to calm them down before an exam.
It’s a big job, but when the time comes, Sarge will be ready to handle it. For now, he continues his march across campus, stopping occasionally to scratch his ear as the tags on his neck jingle.
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