OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s Police Commission voted unanimously Monday night to accept Chief Michael Spera’s proposal to sell one of the department’s German Shepherds to his former handler and replace him with a Labrador Retriever.
The dog’s handler, Patrolman Jared White, is leaving the Old Saybrook Police force. Spera said that at the present time, no other officers were willing to take charge of the dog, and that it was uncertain whether or not the dog could adapt to a new handler.
The canine, Sonny, is one of two German Shepherds that make up Old Saybrook’s K-9 unit. Sonny has been with the force since 2020 and has been called on 41 times, according to Officer Tyler Schulz, the canine unit coordinator. The other canine, Chase, has been with the department since 2018 and has been called on over 100 times.
Spera said that dogs assist the department with finding missing children, locating elderly residents who might have wandered off, tracking narcotics and protecting police officers.
Schulz said that they are often called in to handle situations as a last resort. He gave an example from last winter, when the canine team received a call about a teenager who had disappeared into the woods wearing only shorts and without a cellphone. He said the dog found the young adult sleeping under a tree. An hour or two later, he said, and the teenager might have passed out from hypothermia.
“By the time they call in the dog, most of the time all other means of finding that person is exhausted,” said Shulz.
Spera said that Labradors are capable of tracking people down, but it will not attack an individual who poses a threat to an officer.
“The only thing a Lab doesn’t do is it doesn’t go bite someone,” said Spera.
In June 2020, a lawsuit was filed against the Old Saybrook Police Department by a woman who claimed that a police dog bit her after she was tackled by an officer, according to reporting in the New Haven Register. The department denied wrongdoing in the incident, which took place in August 2019. Schulz was a defendant in the case, along with Officer Stephen Hackett.
Spera said that Labradors are “seen as more approachable and community minded, exemplifying the guardian mentality.” While he acknowledged there was some loss in protection of the officers, he said there were other tools that officers could use for protection, and that the department more frequently used the dogs for tracking and community relations.
He also said that a lab would save the department money, given that police cars would not need to be outfitted with bars on the windows and a door popper as would be needed with a German Shepherd.
Schulz said that time would also be saved in the training of a lab. He said that initial training for a German Shepherd requires a 16-week patrol class and 6 weeks of narcotics training. In contrast, a Lab would require 6 weeks of narcotics training and 5 weeks of training in tracking.
Spera said the position would give officers another opportunity for professional development, and says he anticipates officers being interested in handling the new dog.
The commission voted to sell Sonny to White for $4,000