UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Introducing Beacon: UMass Boston’s most adorable new student

Beacon, UMass Boston’s therapy dog in training, exploring The Mass Media’s office space. Photo by Katrina Sanville / Editor-In-Chief.

On Aug. 1, UMass Boston’s official Instagram announced some exciting news: after months of fundraising and donations, the UMass Boston Police Department finally adopted a comfort K-9. The black labrador puppy, appropriately named Beacon, had been making appearances around campus throughout late July, though the Instagram posts were his official debut for most of the UMass Boston community.

The goals of the program are to not only create a better sense of community between UMBPD and the rest of the campus community, but also to give students, faculty and staff access to a stress reliever and de-escalation tool. As Crystal Valencia on the UMass Boston website explains:

“Research has also shown that simply petting a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol, while the social interaction between people and their dogs actually increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin—a benefit for those processing traumatic events or everyday stressors.” (1)

Beacon’s handler and officer for UMBPD, Mark Cikacz, also commented on the role Beacon will play on campus.

“The way we want to use Beacon as a comfort dog is to ease anyone going through any trauma, or anybody that has been affected through violence, tragedy or any traumatic or mental health incidents that might pop up on campus,” explained Cikacz. “Obviously, he is going to be a proponent for us for community engagement. We’re going to use it to bridge that gap between us and the community, and show them the direction we’re looking towards: a more approachable and obviously pet-friendly approach to policing.”

Though the plan was originally to adopt a golden retriever, as stated by the goals on the UMass Boston website (1), Beacon was donated to UMBPD by Pacheco Kennels, a breeder based in Raynham, Mass. This donation significantly expedited the process for UMBPD, as they were originally anticipating needing $35,000 in donations to cover all of the costs of adopting a new dog. With the generous donation from Pacheco Kennels, as well as over $7,000 from the UMass Boston community (2), UMBPD was able to adopt Beacon less than a year after the original announcement article and have the expenses covered for the first two years.

According to Cikacz, much of the inspiration for adopting a comfort K-9 into the UMBPD came from watching other schools with their own furry friends. Schools like Northeastern University, Brown University, Harvard and UMass Amherst all have their own comfort K-9s that work at the school and serve their community.

“I based a lot of the program ideas on different universities in the area that have a comfort dog. I know Northeastern has two right now, and one of their platforms that they’re doing is that they’ll do a meet and greet. They’ll assign a room, and then a student or a staff member can go online and request some time, and then they’ll get fifteen or twenty minutes alone with the dog. That way they can go into that room and just unwind, destress and kind of get away from the day,” said Cikacz.

Much of the plans revolving around the UMBPD and their newest officer are still tentative, but Cikacz shared some ideas that include: working closely with the Counseling Center to visit on a regular basis, hosting events around campus where people can come meet and interact with Beacon, implementing a Geotracker on Instagram so members of the UMass Boston community can locate Officer Cikacz and Beacon throughout the day, and the possibility of clubs and organizations being able to request time with Beacon. In addition, Cikacz also shared more fundraising opportunities that may be in the works, such as merchandise at the bookstore and a 5K run.

Although Beacon will be leaving Sept. 15 for four weeks to attend his schooling in order to become certified in his field, Cikacz anticipates that he should return by the end of October—just in time for finals to settle in for the Fall Semester. Once he does return, there is a good chance there will be plenty of opportunities to meet the comfort K-9, and until then, keep an eye on Beacon’s own Instagram @k9beacon, for updates.

“If you see him out, and you want to approach him, that is more than welcome,” said Cikacz when asked about the protocol in saying hello around campus. “We do just ask that you first ask the handler before you make any initiation of contact. Treat-based rewards will come from the handler only, but gifts like toys and stuffed animals are more than welcome.”

  1. https://www.umb.edu/news/2022/umass-boston-police-raising-funds-to-bring-communi/
  2. https://umb.scalefunder.com/cfund/project/33600/wall
About the Contributor
Katrina Sanville, Editor-In-Chief