University of Rhode Island police officer Mark Chearino has a partner while on the job, but this companion is a 10-year-old yellow lab named Astro.
The pair often makes its appearance at community policing events across campus, and students always seem to know the two by name.
“I don’t know what he does, but people are just drawn to him,” Chearino said. He added that he started to see an enigmatic quality in Astro when with his parents, and from there he brought Astro to senior living centers before transitioning Astro here to campus.
Chearino said he has had Astro since the dog was four months old. He got Astro through the Providence Journal classifieds and said the two of them just “clicked.” Though Astro has only been a certified therapy dog for three and a half years, the two have attended many different programs involving therapy dogs on campus from residence hall programs to puppies on the Quadrangle every spring.
“It’s been a great transition,” Chearino said. “Everybody loves Astro.” He added that they have done work with people that have fear of dogs and have always gotten those same people to touch Astro, even if it is just placing a finger on him.
Having Astro by his side, Chearino has gotten to interact with more people. He said that he gets more yells across the Quad for Astro than he does for himself.
“That’s okay because I know that they know that I’m attached to Astro,” Chearino said. “I always engage without Astro, but when Astro is here I get that much more of a draw.”
For 22 years, Chearino has been part of the URI Police Department and has been involved in numerous community policing events. Aside from Astro, Chearino has been involved with the university’s Ghost Hunting Team since the club’s inception. He likes to attend meetings, “pop in” randomly and engage with the members of the group. Chearino has helped the club get into different buildings on campus for their investigations and has been an “unofficial advisor” for them. He said that he doesn’t remember how he got into the paranormal activities and has just always been interested in it.
“I’ve been involved in paranormal stuff for awhile,” he said. “I was very active years ago, I’ve since kind of got out of it for no special reasons and changed modes. I do photography now even though paranormal ventures included photography.”
Chearino still has places he likes to go to for their paranormal history and he also goes to those places to enjoy the scenery and take photos.
He said that he loves what he does with the students and that it is the students that bring him back, keep him going and keep him doing what he is doing as an officer.
“My thing is getting to know people across their four, five or six years being here, depending on their motivation or their criteria to get through,” Chearino said. “[I’m] getting to know the people and becoming friends with them on campus. And a lot of times it transitions to the outside.”
Some of his favorite moments on the job include graduations, when he stands side stage where students exit so he can give them a hug or handshake and congratulate them.
“I get to see everybody’s accomplishment,” Chearino said. “I see them mature over those four, five, six years and it’s just pure to see that, it’s nice. It leaves a nice feeling.” Chearino also has stayed in touch with many students he had become close to over the years here.
While he looks to retire in about four years, Chearino wants to leave a footprint behind for other officers. Though officers have to enforce the laws of the state and of the college, Chearino wants to remind other officers that they are here to help people no matter who they are. For the students, he wants them to know that the officers are people who deserve respect and that students should be able to approach them with anything.
“At least respect us as people because I feel like we respect everybody out there,” Chearino said. “I know I do.”
Editor’s note: Caitlyn Picard is a member of the URI Ghost Hunting Team