New K-9 in training to join Jeannette police
When former Jeannette Police Officer Justin Scalzo and his K-9 partner Falco left the city earlier this year, the department was without a dog for the first time in several years.
Chief Shannon Binda said, at the time, he didn’t know of anyone in the station who was interested in taking on the training and all that comes with becoming a K-9 officer.
But there was someone interested — Officer James Phillips.
“I’ve always been interested in working as a K-9 officer,” Phillips said. “But when I joined (Jeannette Police) in 2011, we had an active K-9 officer. We worked the second shift together and my interest started to grow. When (Scalzo) left the department, it was an opportunity (for me) if the department wanted to continue the program.”
Phillips and Binda discussed the possibility and the chief made a call to Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, who is able to make funds available to local departments.
Binda said Peck immediately agreed and asked what the city would need to get the program back up and running. He approved a grant of $11,000 for the purchase of the city’s new dog —Arees, a German shepherd from the Netherlands who is about 2 years old.
In September, the department also began looking for funding sources and donations for Arees’ training, food and upkeep.
To that end, Phillips sent out a letter to area organizations and businesses to let the community know that the K-9 program would return to the city once the funds were raised.
Tony DeNunzio Sr. received one of those letters and he was in a unique position to help. DeNunzio and his classmates from the Jeannette High School Class of 1947 just happened to have a little more than $500 they wanted to donate to a local cause.
DeNunzio said the class held its final reunion — its 65th —two years ago and ever since the reunion committee members had been searching for a way to spend the funds that remained in the group’s account.
Committee members Dolly Caesar Rega, Doris Levin Kaufman, Genevieve Scopa Lepidi, Harold Young, Mary Kay Steiner Hartung, Velma Ebleing Brisbane and DeNunzio discussed how to make their donation for a while before coming up with the idea to contribute to the police fund.
“We think that by donating to the K-9 program it will enhance the safety of every citizen immediately,” said DeNunzio. “It was the best thing to do to cover the entire community. It makes every person safer and it benefits every citizen of Jeannette.”
Once the initial funds from Peck arrived, the city reached out to Bill Sombo, master trainer at Strategic K-9 Inc. for help in selecting the right dog for the department’s needs and to arrange training for Phillips and his new partner.
“I thought the program was done,” Binda said. “The kennel was removed from the police car. This all happened so quick.”
The partners are training in narcotics detection right now and will be certified in that area of K-9 work fairly soon. The remainder of Arees’ training will come in the new year as he learns crowd control and how to be a patrol animal and how to search for people. He should be fully trained in the spring.
“The dog is a deterrent to crime and its a safety measure for officers handling situations,” said Phillips. “(Arees) is doing great at home. He’s very acclimated to the family. He’s training really well. He’s all business now.”
Anyone who would like to donate to the K-9 fund can send a check made payable to Jeannette Police Benefit K-9 Fund at 110 S. Second St., Jeannette PA, 15644.
Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at [email protected] or 724-838-5154.