Comfort dogs like Very Good Boy Clarence are soft, patient, and excellent listeners.

By Chad Taylor
April 16, 2021
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Gentleman petting Clarence the comfort dog at the U.S. Capitol
Credit: Kent Nishimura / Getty

The mourning process can be difficult on just about anyone. But when the grieving is happening for a soldier killed in combat or a first responder killed in the line of duty, the sadness can be even more powerful and mixed with other feelings like anger and confusion.

In those times, getting even the smallest doses of comfort or compassion can make all the difference and, as we all know, few animals excel in giving quiet comfort and love quite like dogs. Comfort animals have existed in the civilian world for a while now. Big softies like Mochi in North Carolina help families dealing with the loss of loved ones and the funeral process. More recently, however, police forces around the country have begun commissioning and training their own comfort dogs, starting with Clarence, a Saint Bernard who became the nation's first official police comfort dog in 2013.

Now 9 years old and still going strong, Clarence made his way to Washington D.C. this week to visit Officer William "Billy" Evans as his body laid in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Evans was killed April 2 when a driver crashed his car through a barricade, hitting Evans and another officer on the north side of the Capitol complex.

Clarence and his handler, Greenfield, Mass., Deputy Police Chief William Gordon, have been busy since Clarence joined the force, travelling around the country to help provide relief and comfort in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, the Sandy Hook school shooting, and the mass shooting in Las Vegas, as well as helping local residents in Greenfield who have been victims of trauma or violence.

"We travel the country, wherever we're asked to go," Gordon told the Greenfield Recorder. "This time we were asked to help out during services at the Capitol building.

"When I was asked, I immediately said 'yes,'" Gordon said. "Clarence was able to comfort members of Congress, the officer's wife and two kids, and our president."

Stationed in an alcove just off the rotunda floor, Gordon and Clarence were directly in President Joe Biden's path as he left the ceremony honoring Evans. A noted dog lover himself, the president stopped briefly, shook Gordon's hand, then rubbed Clarence's cheeks and gave him a kiss on the snout.

Gordon and Clarence are proud to provide the service they do, and comfort dogs will continue to provide a small but important amount of solace and compassion to people going through some of the very darkest times in their lives. Attaboy, Clarence.