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WPD's K-9 unit to transition with new dog

Date: 1/12/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM The Wilbraham Police Department's K-9 unit was developed over the past year with the help of Ben, a yellow Labrador retriever trained in single scent detection. "Officer Ben," as he was known, responded to more than two dozen calls between December 2007 and November 2008.

Officer Ben had to retire on Dec. 19, however, due to a thyroid condition that would prevent him from continuing to be a police dog, according to a press release from WPD Captain Raymond Kallaugher. His medical condition caused the dog to act irrationally at times, as well as ignore verbal commands.

On Dec. 22, Ben disobeyed commands to return to his kennel after leaving it and was struck by a motor vehicle on Boston Road. He was euthanized at the Boston Road Animal Hospital in Springfield as the result of injuries sustained.

The K-9 unit will continue in Wilbraham, according to Police Chief Allen Stratton and K-9 Officer Joe Brewer, who met with the Board of Selectmen last Monday evening.

"Because of the success in the beginning of this program, we wanted to get another dog," Stratton said. The new dog, most like a German shepherd, would have skills that Ben did not possess, as he was only a single scent detection K-9 - skills like tracking, drug detection and aggression apprehension.

"Over the course of the year, we found opportunities to use the single scent [skills Ben possessed], but sometimes we had to call in outside assistance," Brewer explained.

He added that the aggression apprehension skill would be the least used tool for the new dog, but would be especially helpful due to the increase in break-ins Wilbraham has seen over the past year.

The dog that Kallaugher and Brewer have picked out to replace Ben on the force will cost $6,200, which will be covered by the K-9 Gift Fund which currently has $8,500 in its coffers. A master trainer from the Pittsfield Police Department has offered to train the dog for free, and the dog's veterinarian fees and food will continued to be donated by Dr. Robert Shurtleff of the Eastfield Animal Hospital and the Wilbraham Women's Club, respectively.

Like Ben, the new K-9 will need to be recertified annually over a four to six week period. Brewer said the new dog will start its certification training in mid-March and if all goes well, the K-9 unit would be operating again by May.

The dog will be coming from Connecticut Canine Services in Bethany, Conn., according to Kallaugher. The service came highly recommended by the master trainer the WPD will be working with, and its dogs are used by both the Massachusetts and the Connecticut State Police.

"We're saddened by the loss of Ben, but we're excited for the unit's transition," Kallaugher told Reminder Publications.

He added that the WPD will need to keep fundraising in order to keep the program viable, however. Donations in Ben's memory may be mailed to the Police Department at 16 Main St. in the name of "K-9 Gift Fund."