Top dog at Police Department earns title by finding gun, man

Herc is the man. Well, not exactly.

But he certainly is the top dog at the Buffalo Police Department these days.

In the last two weeks, the 3-year old German shepherd has recovered a loaded handgun in a drug-related arrest and found a missing Blasdell man who fell into a ravine.

Herc’s work underscores the importance of the department’s K-9 unit in performing certain tasks at a much faster pace than their human counterparts, police officials say.

In other words, the nose knows, said Lt. Salvatore Losi, praising the ability of the dogs in the K-9 unit he heads. They specialize in tracking the scents of humans, drugs and chemicals involved in weapons and bombs.

In the last few years, the number of Buffalo police dogs has increased to five with another scheduled to start in December.

Herc, who is K-9 Officer Mary Ellen Sawicki’s partner, howls with enthusiasm when it comes to his job, especially when it involves catching the bad guys.

At 71 pounds, he’s lean and, when it’s called for, mean.

He stands only 30 inches tall, but the canine, from the Czech Republic, has been known to bound up on his hind legs standing more than 5 feet high when cornering a criminal.

Herc, as in the mythic Hercules, also has a playful side when visiting schools, community centers and scouting groups.

“When we do searches at schools, the little kids just love him, but not so much the big kids,” Sawicki said.

The key to a successful K-9 team is training, according to Losi. “We’ll do drug hides in a building or track a human in a field. That keeps the dogs sharp, and the handler can read the dog’s indications,” the lieutenant said.

Reading those signs proved invaluable Sunday when Sawicki and Herc were called in to assist Hamburg police in searching for man who had been missing since Saturday.

The team began its search in a heavily wooded area off Fairview Parkway not far from where the 26-year-old man’s vehicle had been located.

Hiking through brush, mud and water, Sawicki said Herc’s nose came up, and he began yanking on his leash. A short time later, the dog’s head shot up and looked off into the distance. Sawicki, looking in the same direction, spotted a form lying in a shallow ravine about 20 feet away.

Hamburg Officers Jason Nappo and John Baker, who were with the K-9 team, climbed down into a 10-foot-deep ravine and positively identified the semiconscious missing man, who was carried out on a stretcher.

Sawicki and Herc had spent two hours covering an estimated 4 miles before locating the missing man. “It was terrific to find him alive,” Sawicki said.

A week earlier, it took Herc less than a minute to locate a handgun after police broke up a pot party on the porch of a vacant house on the 1000 block of Fillmore Avenue.

As Officer Gary Sengbusch chased one of the individuals who fled, he spotted a handgun in the suspect’s possession. But when the officer apprehended the teenager, the gun was missing.

Police searched an overgrown area of brush but with no luck until Sawicki and Herc arrived. The dog got down on his belly and crawled into the brush. He then quickly backed out and looked up at Sawicki.

“That was his way of telling me there was something in there,” Sawicki said. “It was a loaded gun, and he found it in about 30 seconds.”

With Herc’s recent successes, Losi said the dog is apparently trying to send a message that he has no intention of being displaced by two of the unit’s newest dogs, Thor and Duke, respectively assigned to Losi and Officer Russ Medina.

“Right now, Herc’s the man,” Losi said.

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