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Newtown To Welcome Saint Michael, Bid Farewell To Baro

Both a welcoming and a farewell, Newtown Police Department had a ceremony scheduled for Thursday, September 19, to pay tribute to the late K-9 officer Baro. The ceremony’s second purpose was to officially welcome and introduce to the community the department’s new K-9 officer, a 2-year-old German shepherd named St Michael.

More than 30 K-9 units from around the state were expected to participate in the ceremony, as were Newtown K-9 Handler Officer Felicia Figol, Officer Matthew Hayes, and the Newtown Honor Guard.

The day represents “the passing of a torch,” Police Chief Michael Kehoe said this week. “Baro was loved, dedicated, and committed, and while he was here he gave much happiness to many.”

The police chief on Wednesday said he looked forward to “dignifying and valuing the work Baro did for so many years.” He also noted that Baro’s good temperament “made life [in the department] so much sweeter.”

The department staff had been anticipating Baro’s retirement, and had already begun “reaching out” for a new dog when illness took him suddenly. Baro died on June 25. According to a statement released by the Town of Newtown the following day, Baro had “many officers at his side” when he died.

Chief Kehoe credits the staff for the contacts and efforts they have made, and was looking forward to the new dog’s arrival, he said.

(The ceremony was scheduled for Thursday afternoon, after this week’s issue of The Newtown Bee went to press. Coverage of the ceremony will appear after the event takes place.)

Saint Michael

The new police dog’s purchase and training was made possible by $14,250 in donations and grants from the American Kennel Club (AKC) community of nonprofit affiliates AKC Reunite (formerly AKC Companion Animal Recovery, or CAR) and the AKC Humane Fund, AKC member clubs, Trap Falls Kennel Club, Newtown Kennel Club, and Farmington Kennel Club, as well as delegates and local residents.

St Michael’s arrival is a case of serendipity. Two friends — one a Newtown police officer and the other an AKC delegate — reconnected in 2012, and found a way to help Newtown Police Department’s K-9 unit.

This was a case of “the right place, right time, right group of people,” said Christopher Sweetwood of the Trap Falls Kennel Club based in Shelton.

Mr Sweetwood had served in Iraq in 2003-04 with Newtown Police Officer Matt Hayes, and recently saw him again at a 2012 dog event in Oxford. He and Mr Hayes “talked for quite a while and I learned that most local police departments have limited funding and a K-9 unit is usually not part of that funding.

“I felt that there had to be a way that local kennel clubs and the AKC might be able to be of some assistance to our local first responders,” Mr Sweetwood said.

In 2012 Mr Sweetwood understood that Baro was nearing retirement, and he “assisted the department with an application for an AKC-Companion Animal Recovery Grant.”

“I then proceeded to inform that AKC family of clubs of the situation and solicit funds to purchase a new working dog,” he said. Plans to meet and continue planning were delayed by 12/14. The department then was “stretched to the limit in terms of manpower and funding,” he said. Early this year Baro developed a heart condition that limited his work, leaving the town without a working dog.

Trap Falls KC had sponsored the police department in its request for an AKC CAR grant and the paperwork was submitted in February 2013. Trap Falls Kennel Club donated $500 toward the unit in October 2012 and had made an additional donation of $2,500. Last month, AKC CAR issued a check for $5,000 for the grant. 

“Many months ago I issued an appeal to the other AKC clubs in the area and as of July 3, 2013, we have raised $14,250,” Mr Sweetwood said. “This is enough to purchase the new K-9 and any remaining funds will be deposited into the department’s K-9 fund to cover K-9 body armor, training materials, dog food, and veterinary bills.

The AKC Reunite Canine Support and Relief Fund grant’s portion of money raised “provided a unique opportunity to help Newtown have a new K-9 officer capable of providing law enforcement services, including searching for missing people,” said AKC Reunite CEO Tom Sharp.

 “Trap Falls had the ability to get involved and raise funds” in an effort resulting in $14,250 in grants and donations from a host of sources.

“I may have started it, but everybody else stood up and talked with their wallets,” said Mr Sweetwood. Finding a puppy “would be easy,” he continued, “but you can’t just say ‘here is a puppy,’ and the dog doesn’t work out.”

Newtown, he knew, needed a trained K-9.

“We found a dog we know can do the job,” he said. “The dog has to come to the department trained — not a cheap proposition.”

To date the following donations have been made to The Newtown K-9 Fund: Trap Falls Kennel Club, $2,500; AKC CAR Canine Support and Relief Fund,$5,000; AKC Humane Fund-Dennis Sprung, $1,000; Newtown Kennel Club, $2,500; Farmington Valley Kennel Club, $2,500; Joy S. Brewster-Cassio Kennels LLC, Newtown, $200; Patricia W. Laurans-Delgate, German Wirehaired Pointer Club of America, Newtown, $300; John L. Ronald-Delegate, Samoyed Club of America, Myersville, Md., $50; Lauren M. Friedman, VP, Trap Falls KC and Christopher L. Sweetwood, Delegate, Trap Falls KC, Milford, $200.

Kennel Clubs have purchased dogs for police departments in the past.

“It’s nothing new,” Mr Sweetwood said. He hopes to promote the practice and “get other clubs to do it throughout the nation.” He would like to see this happen through other clubs. “Maybe they can meet local police officers and see what they need,” he said. He also anticipates that the Newtown police will need donations in the future.

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