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Jeannette officer shepherds in new police dog

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Jeannette police officer Justin Scalzo with the department's new police dog Falco on December 10, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

Two German shepherds bound to the door when Patrolman Justin Scalzo puts on his police uniform.

But only one can join him for work in Jeannette.

“It's a hard transition for him right now,” Scalzo said of retiring K-9 officer Wando, a 9-year-old dog who worked the city streets for seven years.

Wando will officially retire at Wednesday's Jeannette council meeting. Two-year-old Falco will be sworn in as Wando's replacement. Both dogs live with Scalzo and his family.

“I wanted a dog that met the standard of the one that I had before,” Scalzo said. “This dog surpassed those expectations, I think this dog is going to keep getting better.”

Master Trainer Bill Sombo of Strategic Law Enforcement K-9 Training Inc. prepared both dogs for police work.

“You can't put a price tag on what a dog can do for a police department,” said Sombo, who conducts training on his own time, separate from his work as a K-9 officer with North Huntingdon. “For what Wando has done in Jeannette, as far as tracking criminals, apprehending criminals and recovering evidence and drugs, is priceless.”

Wando and Falco work as dual-purpose police dogs, meaning they are certified in narcotics detection and patrolling, which can include obedience, tracking and searches. They can quell an aggressive situation and make a scene safer for their human counterparts.

Wando was purchased by Jeannette police for $5,000 in August 2005, Scalzo said. The dog and its training were funded by a grant from District Attorney John Peck.

By November 2005, Wando was certified and at work. In seven years, he has had more than 6,000 narcotics finds and more than 100 apprehensions.

Now, with arthritis in his lower spine and hips, Scalzo decided it was time for Wando to leave the force.

“I felt as the dog's handler and partner that it was time to retire him,” Scalzo said.

With a grant from the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation at The Giving Back Fund, Falco was purchased for $6,500 in May 2012. On Nov. 21, Falco graduated from training and has been on the force since.

Already, Falco has helped clear buildings and locate narcotics in vehicles, Scalzo said.

Patrolman James Phillips said it's great to have the dogs around as an extra tool.

“It's nice to have that on your side as an advantage,” he said.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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