Clairton adds K-9 to force
Clairton police Sgt. Bob Ferry is getting to know his new best friend.
“We're doing well,” Ferry said Wednesday after a four-hour round trip to Sharpsville to pick up the department's new K-9 officer, a 14-month old German shepherd named Jerry. “I'm excited and ready to go. I meet with the trainer tomorrow and we will go over all of the things that I should and shouldn't be doing (as I) get to know Jerry and he gets to know me.”
Ferry, a 13-year veteran of the force and a full-time employee for seven years, said he always has wanted to be a K-9 handler.
Wednesday's journey from Shallow Creek Kennels in Mercer County began an intensive 30-day bonding period for Ferry and Jerry. They will learn to trust one another and work together.
The next step will be a 10-week training program that will cover obedience, narcotics, tracking and apprehension. The duo will travel throughout Western Pennsylvania five days a week to train in different locations to prevent becoming acclimated to a particular site.
“If he goes into a building, you don't want him to know that he looks for drugs here or people there,” Clairton Sgt. Keith Zenkovich said. “That way, Jerry will get used to different environments and surfaces. He can do anything anywhere.”
Zenkovich, who has been a K-9 handler since May 2008 with Belgian malinois Ike, said Ferry and his dog will build a stronger bond as training progresses.
“Everything is play-oriented, and the dog will be having fun,” he said. “Their bond will continue to come together for years. Bob has a lot of work ahead of him. There will be a ton of knowledge thrown at him, and it will be constant training throughout their career together.”
Ferry will train with Pat Maloney's K-9 Academy.
Maloney, a retired Penn Hills police officer, has been working with police dogs since 1977. Under Maloney's supervision, K-9s are certified annually through the North American Police Work Dog Association and the Pennsylvania Police Work Dog Association.
Maloney said Jerry will serve Clairton well.
“We picked who we thought was the best,” Maloney said. “We were looking at the dogs' hunt drive, prey drive and demeanor. We looked at their bite, wanting a dog that has a full-muzzle bite rather than just the front (teeth). We walked each dog on different floors and had him jump up on some furniture to see how agile he is.”
Jerry, bred in Holland for police and public service training, was one of five dogs that took part in a meet-and-greet with Ferry, Maloney and Zenkovich before the pairing was made. He was purchased with a $15,000 Ben Roethlisberger Foundation Grant facilitated by the Regional Chamber Alliance Foundation. The grant application was written by the foundation and city with assistance from Clairton officer Matt McDanel.
Mon Yough Area Chamber president Maury Burgwin, who serves as secretary of the Regional Chamber Alliance Foundation board, said small communities are reliant on outside help from governmental agencies or charitable organizations in order to support programs that serve their communities.
“It's a great honor to be working with the city of Clairton and its police department in helping them to obtain this K-9 dog,” Burgwin said. “They do great work over there, and helping them to defray that kind of a cost gives them the ability to use that money for other resources that they need. In these times, that is critical.”
Police Chief Rob Hoffman said the K-9 program has proved valuable in Clairton and he thanked the organizations for their contribution.
“By putting a second K-9 on, we will be able to double our coverage,” he said. “The dogs are able to assist not only the handler, but the entire department in situations related to narcotics, tracking and general patrols.”
A police dog's primary purpose is as a locating tool, Zenkovich said. That means finding evidence, people or drugs. He and Ike have taken part in 82 apprehensions in their career, and only 14 of those are bite-related.
Zenkovich said an active K-9 program is an excellent public relations tool for any police department.
“The dogs will be ambassadors for our department,” he said. “People will remember Jerry's name and forget Bob, just like people remember Ike's name and completely forget mine.”
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or email@example.com.