BRUNSWICK — A furry, four-legged officer has been added to the Police Department.
Jack, a German-Dutch shepherd, is set to become the department’s first K-9 in 15 years.
And he’s only a year old.
A few months ago, the department was awarded a $25,000 grant to help offset the start-up costs of establishing a K-9 unit.
The department had to pay $8,600 to purchase Jack. The rest of the money will go towards leashes, harnesses, vests, dog food, vet bills and outfitting a cruiser specifically for Jack.
“This has been a budget item for the last several years,” Patrol Cmdr. Tom Garrepy said. “Due to the initial start-up costs we haven’t been able to fiscally afford it.”
Jack is still going through rigorous training before he and his handler, Officer Brian Funke, go on patrol together.
Funke says Jack still nibbles a bit. After all, he’s still a puppy.
“He still has some of that attitude and tries to push the boundaries just a little bit,” Funke said.
But he thinks Jack is catching on quickly.
“He’s quick to learn, which is great for us,” Funke said. “It helps that he has a little bit of prior training.”
Prior to coming to Maine, Jack lived with a handler in New York that bought him from the Netherlands.
So far, Funke says the trainers are quite impressed.
“He kind of ‘knows the game,’ as we call it, for certain things like searching and tracking,” Funke added.
Jack will be trained to sniff out illegal narcotics and will be used to track people – from those with dementia to criminals evading the police.
Before purchasing Jack, surrounding police departments had to lend their police dogs out to the Brunswick Police Department on an as-needed basis. This created longer response times, as dogs are already quite busy around the state.
As the entire state’s population ages, including Brunswick’s, there’s been an increase in elderly people going missing. And, due to Maine’s dense wilderness, locating those people can be a quite the difficult task.
“Burglaries, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, tracking them down – which requires in certain cases to call a dog – and, you know, we are kind of seeing an uptick in that and having the dog get here quickly is essential,” Funke said.
“The quicker he can get there, the stronger the scent is that he can track, so it is definitely going to help us having our own dog,” he added.
According to Garrepy, the department had been looking to establish a K-9 unit since its last handler retired in 2003. The town has had a desperate need for a dog’s services since.
Garrepy says adding the K-9 unit will also be beneficial in the department’s effort to get illegal drugs off the street.
“I just think that with the insurgence of drugs and Route 1 being the primary corridor for us, I think that between Jack and Officer Funke’s abilities of working with our drug agents, I think we are going to see our drug seizures skyrocket,” Garrepy said.
In January, the department applied for the $25,000 grant through the Stanton Foundation, a nonprofit in Massachusetts that assists police departments that do not have funds to start a K-9 unit.
“These K-9s are so expensive because they are looking for specific breeds and certain attitudes within the dogs, specifically to ‘drive’ up the dog itself,” Funke said.
“That’s why it costs so much – because it’s hard to find because they have to have that specific drive.”
Funke insists that Jack has that drive.
The pair trains at various locations around Cumberland County with the United States Police Canine Association. In addition, two other officers from the department are trying to get certified through the same program.
Funke, who is no stranger to working with dogs, was chosen to be the K-9 handler because of his experience training and working with bomb dogs during his time in Iraq serving with the Marine Corps.
Although familiar with K-9s, Funke has had to take make changes at home because when he and Jack aren’t training, Jack is living with Funke and his wife Liz.
More interesting though, he and Liz already have two dogs and two cats.
“The integration has been slow just because one of my dogs isn’t overly tolerant of other dogs,” Funke said.
“And we weren’t really sure with Jack’s background and him not really being around dogs in that atmosphere before how it would go.”
Funke says all three dogs have been going on runs and walks together and are slowly making progress.
Thankfully, the couple has a finished basement just for Jack.
“Brian and I go down and spend time with him after dinner every night,” Liz said.
“At first I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I kept my distance, but I quickly learned he’s a normal, big, goofy puppy when he’s not working.”
When that big, goofy puppy is certified, he and Jack will surely save lives.
“There are so many different avenues you can investigate with dogs,” Garrepy said.
“They are worth 10 officers just with their noses alone and their tracking abilities,” he said. “And people understand if we go to a hostile situation they don’t really want to take on a dog.”
Patti McDonald can be reached at 740-8335 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @veggiepattiruns.