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WPD: calling all K-9 supporters for assistance

(above) Dog officer Joe Brewer, the members of UNICO of Wilbraham, and Alex Berezkin, chef and owner of Il Giardino Restaurant. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM Ben, the yellow Labrador Retriever who is trained in single scent detection, officially became a part of the Wilbraham Police Department (WPD) earlier this year. The dog, one of approximately 20 with single scent detection skills in the country and who is valued at around $15,000, was donated by the Wilbraham Masonic Lodge to the WPD.

However, as this is the first year the police department has had a K-9 unit, there are some costs that haven't yet been covered by the Masons and other donors. This is why Capt. Raymond Kallaugher, a driving force behind supporting the K-9 unit, is publicizing the donation drive to keep Ben at work and in town.

"The fundraising began from the point in time we got him home," Kallaugher said. The WPD released a brochure introducing Ben and his skills to the various businesses linked to the Chamber of Commerce, asking for their support of the dog and the program about three weeks ago, according to Kallaugher.

"The brochure was the brainchild of Pamela Beall [secretary to the Board of Selectmen]," Kallaugher stated. "It was a ton of work on her part. She did the tough part."

He went on to say that the first year of a program like this is the hardest, due to one-time start up costs, such as outfitting a cruiser for the K-9 unit with a special climate-controlled kennel.

"If the car stalls for some reason, the kennel keeps the dog safe and comfortable," he explained.

Kallaugher added there are "a lot of forthcoming bills" as well.

"We are getting support," Kallaugher said. Thanks in part to Beall's brochure, checks are coming in, he added.

For those interested in donating, there is no minimum amount. "We'll take donations of fifty cents," Kallaugher said. He told Reminder Publications that the average donation is about $35, although some larger businesses have donated up to $1,000.

Kallaugher added that because Ben can be called to any of the surrounding towns for assistance, residents in those town can donate to the K-9 fund as well, if so inclined. East Longmeadow called a few weeks ago to request Ben's help in a search for a missing elder.

"If anybody has a need, we'll send him," Kallaugher said.

UNICO of Wilbraham donated $1,000 to the K-9 fund at their Jan. 3 meeting and pledged to host an annual fundraiser beginning this September in the form of a Porchetta Dinner at Il Giardino's to help continue with the support of Ben during his career with the WPD.

The group's next Porchetta Dinner on Feb. 25 will support one of the many groups UNICO gives to, such as the Minnechaug Ultimate Party, the Minnechaug Band, Minnechaug scholarships and the Wilbraham Police Relief Association.

The dinner costs $15 per person and consists of a salad, bread, pasta, pork, potatoes and dessert. Dinner starts at 7 p.m. and reservations can be made by calling 596-3055.

The next fundraiser that will directly benefit Ben and the K-9 unit will be a spaghetti supper on March 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Ludlow Elks Lodge, 69 Chapin St. in Ludlow. Meals are $5 each, and Ben will be on hand at the event for photo opportunities and a demonstration of his skills.

How is Ben doing so far? "He's currently assigned to the 12 to 8 shift," Kallaugher said, "and so, far so good. He's fitting in with us."

He added that fundraising for the K-9 unit will have to continue for a while, however.

To make a donation, checks can be delivered in person to WPD headquarters at 16 Main St. or they can be mailed to the Police Department, 240 Springfield St., Wilbraham, MA 01095. Please make checks payable to the Town of Wilbraham K-9 Gift Fund.