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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dogs Delight Kids at K-9 Unit Demo

Dogs Delight Kids at K-9 Unit Demo:
Roger Sherman students 
thanked for their support
(Posted to 1/28)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Like a couple of new kids coming to class their first day, Ellie and Lola got a warm welcome from the entire student body and faculty at Roger Sherman Elementary. Now if they could just stop barking and sniffing the floor.

Ellie, in fact, is a bloodhound and Lola is a German shepherd, and the pair were front and center in the gym at the Fairfield Beach Area school mid-afternoon Friday as part of a special Police K-9 Unit presentation. The dogs were provided by Westport police and brought to the school as a show of thanks to students for their help in raising funds for Fairfield’s own K-9 Unit. Under the guidance of teacher Ted Ostrowski, the 5th graders have been busy collecting pocket change and other donations to contribute to the various expenses associated with the K-9 program.

“This is our way to say thank you to the faculty and students at Roger Sherman for their assistance in helping us raise funds for our future K-9 patrol unit,” said Officer Jay Valle of Fairfield Police’s Public Affairs department to the gathering.

Valle said that the department needs to raise enough money to purchase the canine, have it trained, outfit the police vehicle in which it will travel and buy special equipment like a bullet proof vest for the dog. He added, “It’s not going to cost Fairfield taxpayers a cent. Our K-9 Unit will exist solely because of public donations.”

The Westport officers, Marc Heinmiller and Ryan Paulson, that arrived with the dogs are also their handlers. Paulson’s charge is 5-year-old Ellie while Heinmiller tends to 10-year-old Lola.

“The dogs are trained in tracking but each has a specialty, too,” said Fairfield Police Officer George Buckner, Valle’s partner. Buckner is currently a D.A.R.E. officer but has expressed interest in joining the K-9 Unit.

As Paulson explained to the young crowd, “The bloodhound is usually search and rescue and the shepherd is used for narcotics or detecting explosives. Our K-9 unit does two things: Look for missing people and narcotics.”

Repeated barking announced the arrival of Lola, a black shepherd that continued to yip as the officer painted scenarios in which the dog might be used.

“Let’s say there was a small amount of narcotics in this gym,” Paulson suggested. “It would take officers fifteen minutes or more to find it. Lola can find it much more quickly.”

Paulson said the dogs are trained like it’s a game, with scented toys. Lola was particularly fond of the fabric item the officer had brought and tugged and tugged at it.

Teacher Molly Farrell moderated the presentation and next introduced Ellie and Officer Heinmiller to the students, who were beaming with excitement.

Heinmiller said that handlers like himself and their dogs are with each other around the clock. “It would be cool if you got to bring your pets to school, right?” Heinmiller asked the children. “Well, we get to bring our pets to work.”

Heinmiller said that Ellie is used just to look for people and that bloodhounds have certain features that make them good trackers. “Her nose is always working, cataloguing odors. Everyone has a unique odor. What Ellie’s trained to do is match an odor with a person. We take that skill and teach them to use a person’s odor to find where they went. She will follow a scent and trail.”

The officer mentioned Ellie’s other advantageous features. “Her ears are longer than her face, which brings the scent up to her nose as her head is low and she tracks a smell. She also has folds of skin that help protect her and slobber that helps capture an odor. That’s what makes them unique… and a bit goofy.”

Valle thanked the Westport team and couldn’t say enough about Roger Sherman Elementary’s support. “This is an awesome program and the school has been great in helping us with our past fundraisers.”  

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