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Clairton to add 2nd dog to its K-9 force

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 4:01 a.m.
Ike, a 6-year-old Belgian malinois, came to Clairton Police Department to work with handler Sgt. Keith Zenkovich in 2008 thanks to a grant through the Ben Roethlishberger Foundation. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News

Clairton will add a second K-9 to its police force, courtesy of the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation.

Council unanimously accepted the foundation's $15,000 grant at Tuesday night's meeting.

“It will give us overlapping coverage, more coverage than before,” Mayor Rich Lattanzi. “Most of all, it's a donation and the city will not have to pay for the food or medical. But even so, can you really put a price on safety?”

“This will supplement the one K-9 that we have right now,” police Chief Rob Hoffman said.

The city got assistance from the Clairton and Mon Yough chambers of commerce in applying for the grant. MYCC also helped Clairton police acquire the dog that now is on the force.

“Dogs can do things officers cannot as far as tracking, narcotics searches and the patrol service that it provides,” Hoffman said.

K-9 officer Sgt. Keith Zenkovich's partner Ike, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, was acquired in 2008 through an $8,000 grant from Roethlisberger's foundation.

Ike was put into service in June of that year after 10 weeks of training, and is credited with 78 apprehensions in his career.

Zenkovich, who was hired as an officer in 1999, said being a part of a K-9 unit is something he always has wanted.

“In my opinion, it's the best job in law enforcement,” Zenkovich said. “The past four or five years have been the best time in my career. It's something I've wanted to do since we were introduced to it in the final weeks of (police) academy. I always found it interesting and fascinating.”

Zenkovich said there is a big difference between being a K-9 officer and working as a patrolman without a police dog.

“When the other officers are done with their 12-hour shift, they go home,” he said. “I still have city property to maintain. He gets a bath once a month. He's got to be brushed. He's got to be exercised. He's got to be fed. I still have to care for and maintain the dog.

“Getting the second dog will help because we're on call 24 hours a day seven days a week.”

The new dog will be trained by master trainer Pat Moloney, a retired Penn Hills K-9 officer. A handler has not been chosen.

Zenkovich said Moloney offered to be a part of the selection process.

“It's a process that council's going to have to be involved with,” Hoffman said. “We have to put a process in place to pick an officer. Once we do that, we have to pick the dog and get a trainer.”

Ike cost $6,500 because he already had some training, and was flown from Belgium for $700. The rest of the grant was used toward additional training.

Zenkovich said a “green” — or untrained — dodg costs about $4,000. Training costs are $6,000-$7,000, and other equipment can be very expensive.

City manager Howard Bednar said the city learned last week that it had been awarded the grant. He said he does not know when the funds will be issued.

Clairton is one of eight police departments to receive the final grants of the 2012-13 season from the Steeler quarterback's nonprofit organization.

Other are Kittanning, Center Township, Aliquippa, Latrobe, Mt. Pleasant, New Castle and Robinson Township. The foundation is distributing a total of $66,382.17 in the Pittsburgh area.

The foundation distributed grants to police and fire departments in each city in which the Steelers played last season.

“We're very fortunate to be in the position that we are able to help these K-9 units,” Roethlisberger said in a press release. “The work that is performed by the dogs and their handlers, as well as the bond that is formed, is incredible. We're just thrilled to do our small part.”

Since 2007, the foundation has made 107 grants totaling more than $950,000 to 102 police and fire departments and five community youth organizations, including Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The K-9 grants have funded the purchase of more than 66 dogs, the training of more than 28 dogs and 50 handlers, safety equipment for more than 52 dogs, and training equipment for more than 31 dogs, as well as food, veterinary services and housing for several more animals.

Zenkovich said he will apply for a new dog through the foundation in two years, when Ike is expected to be retired.

On Tuesday, council approved the purchase of a 2005 Ford Expedition from Mosside Auto Sales for $16,495. It will be used by Zenkovich as a K-9 unit.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965.

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