Meet Sasha, one of Harvard University’s newest employees. She is friendly, highly skilled — and furry. Sasha is Harvard University Police Department’s first community engagement dog, bringing comfort and support to students, faculty, and staff across campus.
“After the last two years, everyone has felt the stress of the pandemic, along with our individual challenges,” says Officer Steven Fumicello, Sasha’s handler. “Sasha brings joy and comfort to everyone she meets. She will be on campus to celebrate the good times and help members of the community when they need it.”
With Fumicello by her side, Sasha is already making friends at Harvard Law and beyond. Through pet therapy, she can assist with anxiety and stress relief, mental health challenges, bereavement support, and more, says Fumicello, adding that Sasha can also help students who are feeling homesick. And of particular relevance to law students, Sasha could potentially reduce anxiety during interviews or trial testimony, he says.
He adds that Sasha was trained and donated by Puppies Behind Bars, a nonprofit that connects incarcerated individuals with opportunities to care for and train dogs, which are then adopted out as service dogs — or community engagement pups, like Sasha. “If you are selected for the program, you attend a two-week team training program at a correctional facility, where you are taught how to handle the dog by the puppy raisers. After successful completion of the training and public access testing, these dogs go on to help people. This is an amazing program and totally embraces the term ‘paying it forward,’” says Fumicello.
Fumicello says Sasha knows more than 50 commands, and that along with a few common ones such as “sit” and “stay,” she can “retrieve items or bring items to someone on command. The commands most people like to see are ‘take photo,’ ‘salute,’ and ‘peekaboo.’”
When she is not busy on campus, Sasha will aid those in the surrounding community, such as police departments, hospitals, veterans, and nursing homes, says Fumicello.
He invites members of the Harvard community to sign up to schedule a visit from Sasha, or simply take a paw-se when they spot her on her regular campus rounds.