He’s got a tail he loves to wag, floppy ears, a shiny black coat and a long, pink tongue that hangs out the side of his mouth.
But Sarge’s best feature might just be his nose. It’s what leads him—and, by extension, his handler, Northeastern University Police Department Sgt. Joe Corbett—through Northeastern’s Boston location on one of their daily walks.
Watching him move, it would appear that Sarge is on a mission to sniff every square inch of campus.
“He’s very curious,” says Corbett. “He wants to check everything out; he’s got a huge drive for play and for hunting.”
Sarge, a 1-year-old American labrador retriever, is the latest canine addition to Northeastern University’s Community Engagement Unit. Along with his new pal, Cooper, once he completes his training Sarge will work as an emotional support animal for the Northeastern community.
He certainly has the personality to fit the job. This is only his first week on campus, but Sarge already fits right in, happily introducing himself to anybody who stops to give him a pat.
And he loves to explore. At times, Corbett strains to rein in Sarge as he pulls on his leash and reaches his snout out to sniff the grass for signs of bunnies and squirrels. When he spots one, he freezes, his ears perk up and his body stretches out 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 puppy. Before he joined the Northeastern community, an 8-week-old Sarge was paired with a women’s New York State penitentiary inmate who trained him in basic commands. During the week, Sarge was “traded” with other inmates who brought him to their jobs to get him acclimated to different environments. On the weekends, he was taken into the city to see trains, bikes, children and everything else.
Sarge’s background makes Corbett’s job easier. “You tell him to go to bed, and he’ll walk right to his crate,” he says. Sarge spends the day in 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 who doesn’t jump or chew the furniture, only plush toys, which he destroys, Corbett says.
There are a few habits that he hopes Sarge will grow out of. Freezing when he sees a squirrel is one of them, as is lunging at the koi pond, eyes transfixed on the well-fed fish.
But Sarge isn’t done becoming his full, slobbery self just yet. With long legs and big paws, he’s still growing—when he reaches full size, he’ll weigh up to 80 pounds. And starting in August, Sarge will train for three months to learn how to detect explosives, a helpful skill to have for Northeastern’s big events.
When he returns to campus, he’ll be available for scheduled petting sessions, and he’ll appear in scheduled meet-and-greets.
That’s where the other half of his personality—his calmness—will come in handy.
“He’s pretty chill,” Corbett says. “He’ll run for a tennis ball nonstop, but then he’ll sit. Last night, he sat on my daughter’s lap and she read to him.”
During Sarge’s campus walk, one student approached to pet him. He gave her his paw. “I miss my dog,” she said.
“I get that a lot,” says Corbett. Students often come to him saying they miss their pets, or they seek out Cooper to help with a difficult situation, or to calm them before a test.
It’s a big job, but when the time comes, Sarge will be ready to handle it. For now, he continues his march through campus, stopping occasionally to scratch his ear while the tags on his collar jingle.