GROTON -- Last spring, the Board of Selectmen had the pleasant duty of swearing in a new member of the town's Police Department, a duty they perform regularly. Though there was nothing different about the brief ceremony, there was definitely something different about the badge recipient.
Perhaps the youngest -- and furriest -- member of the force, Lola is a 2-year-old Labrador retriever specially trained for police work.
Although sworn in early last spring, Lola and her partner, officer Nicholas Beltz, only started going on patrol together in October, with the black purebred earning her keep almost from the minute she went on duty.
"We've responded to calls from a number of towns, and Lola has helped to recover evidence in several crimes, including breaking and entering and evidence from a stabbing," reported Beltz. "She doesn't always find the people you're looking for, but she can let you know in what direction they walked away or if they got into a vehicle or something like that."
Beltz said in a town the size of Groton, and other heavily wooded communities, Lola's tracking skills are particularly useful.
"Lola does a little bit of everything in Groton," said Beltz. "The town has never had a police dog before. I researched the proposal and the chief approved it because there is a need for a dog in town. Groton is a small town, but it has the largest area of any town outside of Middlesex County -- 32 square miles -- and a lot of that is open land, including vast conservation areas. With all the trails and wooded areas in town, there's a need for a dog that is trained in tracking. The Police Department gets a couple of calls a year involving missing persons, so now, instead of us having to wait for a dog to come from somewhere else, we can go out and look for people ourselves."
And when not on duty hunting up felons or missing persons, Lola is busy with public relations, making friends everywhere she goes.
"Lola has been very well received by the community," said Beltz. "We go out and try to meet and greet people as much as possible. We go to events like Town Meeting and the senior Thanksgiving dinner. And we're always on call to assist. Lola is a fantastic dog who is very friendly and sociable. She's very good around people."
But as successful as Lola has been in Groton, it might never have happened if she had not flunked out of school as a seeing eye dog.
"When we got the dog, she did not have any police training," revealed Beltz. "So we had to start from scratch. We got it from Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York. When they get dogs that have too much energy like Lola does, they don't make good seeing eye dogs but they do make good police dogs."
In fact, when Lola was gifted to the Police Department, her name wasn't even Lola.
"She had a different name when we first got her," confirmed Beltz. "But I changed it to Lola."
With the dog's expenses covered by anonymous donors, Beltz and Lola entered a special training program as a team.
"Training went for two months at the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department in Massachusetts," said Beltz. "They have a very large canine training program and Lola was certified in tracking for human odor and evidence recovery. Later on, she will be going for her narcotics certification.
"Lola stays with me 24 hours a day, and when I come to work, she comes to work too," continued Beltz who takes the dog home with him every night. "And since we're a canine team, we use a specially equipped cruiser that has space for Lola.
"During a typical work day, Lola and I go on patrol operating from the cruiser," said Beltz. "When I respond to calls she's there and if needed she's ready to go at a moment's notice. Also, I work her an hour a day so she can eat. She goes on a training regimen every day in order to keep her skills sharp. She doesn't just get served a bowl of food like a normal pet would. She has to earn it."
Though Lola works primarily in town, she has responded to requests for help from surrounding communities.
"Lola's skills in tracking are helpful in finding specific individuals who are either lost or missing or people who have broken into a house and need to be located," said Beltz.
"Lola is definitely useful to a small town police department," insisted Beltz. "Especially out this way where there aren't many canines west of Groton other than a couple from the state police. That's why it takes so long to get a dog out this way."
Lola is so good at what she does and so well behaved that the casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that anyone could take charge of her, but that is not necessarily so.
"I'm the only one in the department who can handle Lola," said Beltz. "There's a special routine we have so that she knows when it's time to go to work. She trusts me and I trust her to get the job done so far as police work goes."
With a working life of five to seven years, Lola has time to make some important contributions to the town's Police Department and do it with the enthusiasm.
"Lola loves her job and can't wait to come to work every day," said Beltz. "She doesn't like being still too long. She loves to work, which is good for us and good in a police dog."