Butler police add second K-9 officer

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The newest four-legged member of the Butler police force is now on the streets.

Blade, a 17-month-old German shepherd, joined fellow K-9 officer Gunner on the job last week.

“Gunner's been great,” police Chief Ronald Fierst said.

Gunner, who's been on the job since November, helped in one arrest when a man was preparing to climb out a second-story window to avoid police, he said.

When Gunner's handler, Patrolman Brian Grooms, shouted that he had a dog, the man changed his mind, exited through the front door and surrendered peacefully.

Although Gunner will remain as a patrol dog, Blade will serve a dual purpose as a patrol and narcotics officer. Blade's handler is city officer David Villotti, a former K-9 officer in Clairton.

The Butler County sheriff's department also got a K-9 officer last year.

“We're a countywide asset,” said Butler County Sheriff Mike Slupe of Bullet, who started in July, replacing a dog deemed too “skittish” that lasted just a couple of weeks.

Slupe said the city's dogs shouldn't be overlapping Bullet's duties.

“(Bullet) is a sniffer for drugs and tracking, he's not a patrol dog. There's a difference,” Fierst said.

Bullet has helped in searches for people, Slupe said, and a couple of drug cases.

Butler city's K-9 program is funded almost solely by donations. No additional officers have been hired. Veterinarian Denis Daman donates medical care.

So far, Fierst said, the program has raised nearly $100,000, including $25,000 in sweatshirt and T-shirt sales.

“I think that the people of the community realized there was a need for the K-9s, and they wanted to become a part of it,” Fierst said.

“It's a community dog. It's not just the city but the surrounding area as well.”

The First United Methodist Church summer vacation Bible program raised more than $4,000 for the program, Fierst said, while the Logan Family Trust, established through the estate of former candy company owner Glenn R. Logan, gave $10,000.

In April 2012, Denny Offstein, a Butler auto dealer, kicked off fundraising efforts by offering a $10,000 interest-free loan to the city.

“This is a history-making event,” Offstein said, adding that the city has never had K-9 officers. “I went everywhere asking for money, and nobody said no.”

A reception thanking donors to Butler's K-9 program will feature Gunner and Blade. It runs from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the First United Methodist Church Connection Center in Butler. At 4 p.m., Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious leaders will bless the dogs.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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