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Training for a serious game of fetch

Saturday, July 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Butler County sheriff's department K-9 officer, Bullet, darted around a Center junkyard, hot on the trail of illegal drugs hidden in one of the vehicles there.

This was a training exercise for Bullet, a German short-haired pointer, and handler, deputy Sgt. Harry Callithen. Combing through the Marshall Offstein salvage yard along Oneida Valley Road in Center, helps them hone their skills.

“They train as often as possible,” Sheriff Mike Slupe said. “We train to keep both the handler and the dog sharp and ready for their next call.”

The department uses a small quantity of drugs supplied by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to train Bullet, Slupe said. Bullet, who has been on duty since last July, can detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

Within the past year, Bullet's discovery of drugs has led to at least one arrest, Slupe said, and he's also helped find two missing children.

Butler County Prison Warden Richard Shaffer said he has given Callithen and Bullet an “open door policy” to do drug sweeps at the jail or training exercises any time. Shaffer estimates Bullet and Callithen have been to the prison about “a dozen times” since the dog joined the department.

Shaffer said he thinks the searches are keeping drugs from entering the prison.

“If it's not keeping it out, it's making them use it or disperse it fast,” he said. “They (inmates) do see them coming down regularly.”

The department paid for the dog using a $10,000 grant from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's charitable foundation.

The department gets food through the Royal Canin pet food program, for free, which supplies food for service dogs. Mike Kelly Auto in Butler donated a sport utility vehicle to transport Bullet.

The city of Butler also has two K-9 officers, Blade and Gunner. Gunner is a patrol dog, while Blade serves the dual purpose of patrol and narcotics officer. Police said they didn't think the dogs overlap each other on duties.

Staff writer Rachel Farkas contributed to this report. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or



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