2 dogs join a revived police canine unit

STAMFORD -- For about two decades, when Stamford police officers needed to track a fleeing suspect or scour a house for drugs, they turned to canine units from neighboring departments.

That meant officers often had to wait for an hour or so as departments from as far away as Milford sent canine teams to Stamford. On Tuesday, a State Police dog was sent to downtown Stamford to help track a bank robber, who eventually got away with an undisclosed amount of cash.

Last month, however, the department got its newest members -- two German shepherds bred and trained for police work. The revived canine unit should be on city streets in December, but for now the dogs are living with Stamford police officers, who will become their full-time handlers.

The dogs should help police track scents of suspects and missing persons, sniff out drug stashes and subdue violent criminals. Lt. Sean Cooney, a police department spokesman, said the two dogs cost $12,000 each, including their training. The money comes from the Federal Asset Forfeiture program, which allows police to seize property and cash from suspected drug dealers.

Over the years, the canine unit became a point of contention during contract talks between the city and police union, said Sgt. Joseph Kennedy, the union president. Chief Brent Larrabee approached the police union a few months ago and suggested setting up the canine unit outside the contract because of its necessity, Kennedy said.

just dragged on and on and on and went from contract negotiation to contract negotiation," Kennedy said, adding that waiting for another department's patrol dog "causes a lot of investigations to go south."

Seth O'Brien, one of the Stamford police officers in the revived canine unit, got Stoki last month. O'Brien is a fan of the breed and already has a 5-year-old German shepherd. He said they're smart dogs, loyal and willing to work, so when the police chief sent out letters gauging interest in housing police dogs for a start-up canine unit, O'Brien jumped at the opportunity.

After stints in a narcotics detail and patrolling the West Side, O'Brien said he always wanted to work with dogs.

Stoki lives with O'Brien in Trumbull with the officer's wife, two children and Ty, his 5-year-old German Shepherd. A 3-year-old, Stoki spends most of the time in a crate to limit his time with people other than his trainer and handler. Stoki is from Eastern Europe and was bred from a long line of working German shepherds. O'Brien isn't quite sure what language the name Stoki comes from, let alone what it means.

"I Googled the heck out of it and couldn't find any meaning for it whatsoever," O'Brien said.

Officer Dave Dogali has a 19-month-old German shepherd named Bobi. The dog lives with his family in Oxford. On Friday, Dogali and O'Brien took their new partners to Stamford for trips to the veterinarian and some basic drug-sniffing exercises.

Next to a grassy hill outside Stamford High School on Friday, the officers doused wrapped-up towels in synthetic powder that produced scents similar to cocaine and heroin. Stoki barked immediately when O'Brien produced the towel.

Dogali threw the towel into a patch, and Stoki led O'Brien to the area, sniffing around for a few moments before grabbing the towel.

"That was all nose," O'Brien said. "That was nice."

William Scribner, a sergeant at the New Milford Police Department, trains police dogs through his private company, Renbar Kennels. He said 18 different police agencies in western Connecticut use canine units for patrol, drug searches and locating explosive materials.

Scribner helped Stamford police shop for the police dogs. He found Stoki and Bobi in the Czech Republic. Before coming to the United States, each was trained in the sport of Schutzhund, which teaches tracking skills and how to protect handlers, among other skills.

He said German shepherds are the breed of choice among police departments and military organizations because they are well-rounded dogs who can excel in several skills at once. He called them "jacks-of-all-trades."

At the end of the October, Stoki and Bobi will enroll in Scribner's eight-week training program. The graduation date for both dogs is Dec. 18.

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