DOVER — Deputy Katie O’Brien and her canine partner, Cara, a black labrador puppy, worked together to start the Strafford County sheriff's first comfort dog program earlier this year.
Cara has now taken on the task of comforting those who knew and worked alongside O'Brien following her sudden death Oct. 2 at age 38.
Kathleen “Katie” O’Brien, a Strafford resident, was a 12-year veteran of law enforcement. She returned to the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy last year to work more closely with children and families in crisis.
“Katie was someone that truly wanted to make a difference in our community — and she did just that every single day. That is her legacy here,” Sheriff Mark Brave said. “She will be missed by many.”
O’Brien made frequent appearances at events and schools to help introduce Cara to the community. Police comfort dogs are similar to therapy dogs, serving to comfort people dealing with stressful situations, like courtroom testimony, forensic interviews or a mental health crisis. During a June interview, O'Brien said being a part of the comfort dog program was “incredibly rewarding” and she looked forward to offering hope and helping people through stressful situations on the worst days of their lives.
Katie O’Brien’s husband, Steven O’Brien, said she was incredibly proud of her career.
“There’s the old expression that ‘being a cop is not a job, it’s a calling.’ She certainly felt called to public service and she was excited to be part of something that was bigger than herself, something that put her in the position to help people when they most needed it,” Steven O’Brien said.
Steven O’Brien currently serves as a police sergeant with the Newmarket Police Department. He met Katie in 2008, when she was an EMT at Newmarket Fire & Rescue, and he was a dispatcher. They married in 2013.
Katie O’Brien began her law enforcement career in 2010 with the North Hampton Police Department, and had worked at the Barrington Police Department and the Newfields Police Department, before becoming a deputy at the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office.
When Katie O’Brien joined the Barrington Police Department in 2016, she was the first female to achieve a police supervisory role within the department, and she was only the second female full-time certified officer hired by the department.
Brave said Katie O'Brien was a "model law enforcement officer that was loved and respected by all."
“She was very well-loved amongst the community at-large and the law enforcement community,” Brave said. “It’s a huge loss for everyone. We will carry on the mission that she helped us start.”
Brave recalled the last time he spoke with Katie O'Brien. She was helping him design baseball-style cards for all the sheriff’s office employees. He had asked her for a quote, and she chose: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” by Eleanor Roosevelt.
“That was the quote she wanted us to put on her card,” Brave said. “I’ll never forget that.”
Steven O’Brien said a number of people Katie had helped in her time as an officer and deputy came to the wake and shared stories with him.
“She made a huge impact on a lot of people’s lives,” Steven O’Brien said. “I’m not sure if she knew the extent of the impact she’s made in everyone’s lives, but I know she always appreciated the opportunity to be in a position to help. She was always proud of that.”
Steven O’Brien said starting the comfort dog program was something his late wife valued as an accomplishment. He recalled her excitement in launching that program and having Cara as her new partner. When it came time to talk to him about Cara eventually coming home with her every night, he joked that she wasn’t asking because she had already made up her mind. He recalled that everywhere they went, she would stop to show people Cara’s photo and explain the program.
There was another side to Katie O’Brien that close friends and family knew outside of her work. She was an avid camper and hiker, and loved being outdoors. She also loved to travel, according to her husband. They took many trips with their friends, but he said Katie particularly fell in love with Sedona, Arizona.
One of her husband’s favorite memories is a camping trip they took to White Lake with friends.
“We bought this inflatable doughnut pool float, because everyone has to make jokes about cops and their love for doughnuts, and our friend Steve spent like 25 minutes trying to blow this thing up before we realized there was a hole in it,” Steven O’Brien said. “Not to be dissuaded, Katie turned it into a skirt and started dancing. That was just who she was, always having fun, smiling and laughing. She was the life of the party everywhere she went."
This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Katie O'Brien, Strafford County sheriff's deputy, dies at 38