This past June, the Suffolk County Police Department introduced seven new members to the force – but these dedicated “officers” come with four legs each. They are the latest dogs to join the Suffolk County Police Department’s Canine Unit. The seven dogs, all European-bred German Shepherds, are working with the dedicated members of the Canine Unit, who consider themselves to be among the luckiest members of the force, according to Charlie Tramontana, a trainer who is in his 26th year with the department, 15 of them in the Canine Unit. In a touching tribute to a fallen colleague, Officer Petersen’s dog, Brick, is named after retired Third Precinct Officer Tara Brick who died from lung cancer in June 2013 shortly after she retired. Being a Suffolk County Police Officer is an honor in and of itself, says Tramontana, but “to be part of a specialized command like the Canine Unit “is an amazing opportunity – truly life-changing,” he says. “It is hard to get accepted, and then when you get to be part of an elite command like the Canine Unit, just getting up every day and going to work is the best feeling in the world.” The Canine Unit was founded in 1964 in response to an upswing of local business robberies in Babylon. It proved to be such an effective crime-stopping tool that within a week’s time, the incidence of robbery decreased by 90 percent. Since then, the Canine Unit has become a most coveted position within the SCPD. It’s also one that comes with great respect. The Canine Unit officers and their dogs have a reputation of never quitting. “If something needs to be found or of someone needs to be caught, we stay out there until we get it done,” says Tramontana. “We come out of the woods wet, muddy, with thorns and poison ivy…. we are constantly getting tested for lyme disease. The tics have been a big threat to our officers and our dogs the last couple of years. You don’t pick a command like this if you are not accustomed to the great outdoors.” This year four of the Canine Unit police officers are retiring. The retiring officers are “the most knowledgeable and committed veterans of the unit,” says Tramontana “and we want to pay them tribute.” Robert Fanwick has 34 years on the job, 29 years in K9 and worked with 5 dogs over the course of his career. Ralph Fuellbier has 31.5 years on the job, 22 years in K9 and has worked with 3 amazing dogs. John Mallia, has 37.5 years on the job, 29 years in K9 and worked with 4 dogs. Stephen McSweeney, 28.5 years on the job, 21.5 years in K9, had 3 dogs. “As you can see, that’s a lot of experience we are losing”. Tramontana asked that we please acknowledge PO Edward Gomez who has returned to K9 after experiencing many personal tragedies and most recently overcoming a serious illness and injury that required surgery. “He is currently training his new dog Mylo and is an inspiration to us all for his dedication and spirit.” All combined, these officers have over 100 years of institutional knowledge and expertise in training and active canine duty, explains Tramontana. “It is such a loss and is unprecedented in the Canine Unit,” he says. “Each one of them is going the extra distance to be sure that they leave us well equipped to handle the department with the same gold standard that they did.” Yes, the department may be in the midst of change and although they are saddened by the retirement of their colleagues, the Unit is moving forward with great enthusiasm for the future. Kevin Krause is the new Sergeant, replacing Sgt. John Durkin who retired in March. “John provided our Unit with outstanding leadership and helped us to move forward. He is loved by everyone,” says Tramontana. He adds, “in out Unit, we would do anything for each other and even though we are competitive in a friendly way, we have each other’s backs 24/7, on the job and personally.” The officers aren’t the only ones who have each other’s backs: The dogs themselves are extremely devoted to their handlers. Although each dog has a unique personality, a typical Canine Unit dog is a male German Shepherd, between the ages of 1 and 10. They weigh on average somewhere around 70 to 80 pounds, and stay in service as a police dog 9 or 10 years. All of the dogs are now patrol-trained by two full-time trainers, Keith Menotti and Brendan Gayer. Then, the dogs are “cross-trained” in one of three additional disciplines: narcotics detection, explosive detection, or human remains (AKA cadaver) detection. The trainers are Bill Krolikiewicz and Charlie Tramontana for narcotics; Steve McSweeney, Mike Cassidy and Brendan Gayer for explosives; and McSweeney and Sam Barretto for human remains detection. The training is rigorous and requires a great deal of strength for both the officer and dog. Interestingly, the commands are taught in German, as the tonality of the language is more conducive to rapt attention and responsiveness. The dogs stay with the officers and their families for the duration of their lives. This often results in a bond that transcends the workplace. The officers speak about their dogs with loyalty and love. The partnership requires a lot of trust on both ends. It is critical that the officers pay attention to every subtlety during training and work to understand the dog’s behavior. It requires the devotion of both the dog and the officer, and it’s clearly an unbreakable bond.