A coalition of area towns administered 2,066 first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine last weekend with “Whittier,” the Amesbury Police Department’s one-year-old therapy dog, a hit among patients and volunteers alike.
The English cream golden retriever was named Whittier in honor of Amesbury’s favorite son and Haverhill-born poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Amesbury Administrative Assistant Janet Nicolaisen, who administers the therapy dog program, told WHAV News Whittier has help relieve the fears some people have about being vaccinated.
“He has been amazing. The staff working there are so excited to have him. He’s just very calm and reassuring and everybody just loves him,” she said.
Whittier and his handler, Amesbury Police Officer Scott Peters, have been present each week for clinics assembled by the Lower Merrimack Valley Regional Collaborative. The group serves Amesbury, Georgetown, Groveland, Merrimac, Newbury, Newburyport, Rowley, Salisbury and West Newbury.
In search of a therapy dog, Nicolaisen said, she reached out last year to Nichols White Goldens of Georgetown. “I had a golden retriever of my own and I know they make great therapy dogs. You can see that many departments in the Commonwealth have them as therapy dogs. She did, in fact, have a dog that she ultimately donated to us,” she explained.
Whittier, nicknamed “Whit,” was the number one name suggested by residents who were queried on social media.
Besides Whittier, all nine fire chiefs in the collaborative volunteer their time, and police chiefs and officers from throughout the region have been on hand in various capacities. Other volunteers from the area include municipal employees, public school staff and residents.
Police and fire departments are trained to use an organizational tool called the Incident Command System. When the size, scope and frequency of COVID-19 vaccine clinics became apparent, organizers said, they turned to the technique to keep everyone on the same page. Staff included pharmacy, medical practitioners, nurse managers, registration desk and observation room, all running at once with 200 volunteers reporting each day. Amesbury Fire Chief Ken Berkenbush was selected as the “incident commander” for the vaccine effort.