Stress-induced seizures force comfort dog into early retirement, police in Maine say

YORK, Maine – A comfort dog from a Maine police department is retiring after five months on the job due to seizures caused by stress.

The husky, named Yukon, has had two seizures since being brought on to York Police Department in September, according to his handler, York police Detective Jamie Robie.

One of the seizures was at the York Middle School while having lunch with a student. The other seizure, Robie said, took place when she was alone with him. She said Yukon was since examined by a vet and that stress is believed to be what triggered the seizures.

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York Police Department has a new comfort dog, Yukon, seen Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.
York Police Department has a new comfort dog, Yukon, seen Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

Police Chief Owen Davis told the Selectboard last week that Yukon’s unexpected seizure disorder means he will not be able to continue his role.

“It’s a great program, something that we want to instill,” Davis said. “Yukon’s got a great home right now, and is doing great, but wasn’t suited to be the comfort dog.”

Yukon was part of an overall effort by the chief to improve the department’s attention to mental health among officers and in the public, he has said. Comfort dogs have become increasingly popular among police departments and are used in Exeter, Greenland, and Portsmouth, NH.

Yukon was officially introduced to the community in October, joining Robie in visiting schools, nursing homes and other places the department wanted to connect positively with the public. At night he went home to live with Robie.

“He would come to work with me here, then we’d go out in the community,” Robie said.

If someone was speaking to officers at the Police Department that were struggling with a crisis or difficult family situation, Yukon would come and help break the ice so they could talk comfortably.

“He’s such a sweet boy,” Robie said. “He brought people that kind of calm comfort.”

Yukon has ‘violent’ seizure at York Middle School

Robie said Yukon was brought to the middle school to help a student having a difficult time behaviorally. Robie told the student they could have lunch with Yukon if he controlled himself for a day. The motivation worked, she said.

“The kid was an all-star after that,” Robie said.

The next day, Robie brought Yukon to the school for lunch with the student in the office. Beforehand, the dog visited the school’s fifth-grade classrooms, during which she said all of the students petted and played with him.

“Then we went to an office space to have lunch, and that’s when I started noticing something wasn’t right,” Robie said.

Yukon then had what Robie called a “pretty violent” seizure while visiting with the student, becoming completely incoherent. Yukon was then brought to a veterinarian where it was determined he had a seizure disorder.

Yukon’s next chapter

Yukon has now been adopted by Robie, who said he has a big yard to play in and enjoys the company of her other dog and her teenage children. She said she was initially expecting to give him to a husky adoption program but did not want to part with her new friend.

“I couldn’t give him,” Robie said. “So, I kept him. He’s in my home.”

Yukon howls in the hallway at the York Police Department on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.
Yukon howls in the hallway at the York Police Department on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

Davis said Yukon’s departure is disappointing, though necessary. He said the program was viewed as a success during Yukon’s short time with York police, and he said the hope is to bring in another dog to once again bring comfort to officers and the public alike.

“We definitely want to have another dog,” Davis said. “It was fantastic.”

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Maine police comfort husky retires early due to stress, seizures