An AP Member Feature Exchange
By Dirk Perrefort, The News Times of Danbury
DANBURY, Conn. (AP) _ The Danbury police department’s newest recruit is a bit on the young side, but don’t let that fool you.
Zeke, a 22-month-old, black German shepherd, and his handler, Officer Greg Topa, began training together earlier this September.
Earlier this week, the partners worked on obedience training, as well as sniffing out marijuana and heroin at a local soccer field.
Jars containing the scents were hidden in a series of plastic pipes. When Zeke found the pipe containing the jar, he received a reward.
“It’s so much fun coming to work every day and learning new techniques,” said Topa, an eight-year veteran of the force.
Topa, who grew up around dogs, was selected as the department’s newest canine officer from about a dozen candidates.
“When I first saw a police dog at the academy, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I love being a police officer and I love dogs. Putting both together is the best assignment I could ever ask for.”
Bill Scribner, a master dog trainer and owner of Renbar Kennels in New Milford, has been working with Zeke and Topa for the past two weeks as part of a nine-week training course.
He said Zeke is being trained in a dual role– to track people who are lost or hiding and to sniff out narcotics and other
Through the use of rewards and repetition, Zeke is quickly learning his new role.
It has been more than a year since Brita, the department’s last police dog, retired from service, according to Chief Al Baker.
He said Zeke was purchased with a $20,000 donation the department received from the Ridgefield Foundation and the Lier Foundation Inc.
Baker said ideally he would like to have three police dogs, one for each shift, but “that’s largely dependent on economics, and I don’t see that happening right now.”
The entire cost for outfitting and training a police dog, he added, is about $50,000. That includes purchasing the dog, and a specially equipped vehicle that has a remote release cage.
The remaining $30,000 for the dog and its equipment, Baker said, will come from federal grants and drug forfeiture money.
“These are very special dogs,” Baker said. “They have to have the right temperament. We looked at several dogs before we made a decision.”
Scribner said the majority of police dogs come from Europe, where breeding and training is taken “very seriously.”
When the dog’s training is completed, he said Zeke will be certified by three different organizations and will be a valuable asset for the department.
The dog will be able to seek out evidence, such as a gun in the woods or drugs in a car, or search for a lost child or a suspect who fled an area on foot.
“I can’t wait to get on the road and put the training to good use,” Topa said.
Information from: The News Times of Danbury,
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