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Police department adds first canine officer in a decade

Date: 3/8/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — For the first time in a decade the Holyoke Police Department will have a canine unit and, according to Chief James Neiswanger, "Ryker" is just the first member of it.

Ryker and his partner Officer Matthew Welch, were introduced to the press on March 1. Welch explained that he and his new partner have undertaken 600 hours of training so far and additional training will be an on-going event.

Neiswanger said that Ryker will be "an all-purpose dog for us" and declined to reveal all of the duties for which the dog will be trained. He did see a possible role in the department's effort to combat the drug trade in the city and to visit schools as part of the department's public relations efforts.

He added the dog is another tool for the department to use, such as the addition of Tasers.

He anticipates adding two more dogs to the department. The department purchased Ryker, who was bred in Holland, from a vendor in New York. Neiswanger added the department looked at three candidates but Ryker proved in assessment tests he was best suited for police work.

The dog's cost of $7,800 was "really a small investment," the chief said.

The dog a German Shepard mix.

Ryker will be living with Welch and his wife. Welch has been with the department for six years and volunteered for the new job.

Welch said the best thing so far about the new assignment is "the bond and the good that can come from it."

His wife named the dog, and Welch said the dog's original name was "Benno."

"It just didn't flow," he said with a smile.