Mentor Police Lieutenant Ken Zbiegien was pumped to share Friday's news.
He'd just gotten a visit from Patrolman Terry Wurgler, fresh from Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Penn., where new K-9, Titan, had completed basic training earlier that day.
“I got a little slobber on my uniform from him just a few minutes ago,” Zbiegien said with a laugh. “Wurgler brought him by the station on their way back (home). Beautiful dog. He's young so we're going to get a little more use out of him.”
Zbiegien said Mentor Municipal Court Judge John Trebets and his wife, Pam, were especially instrumental in motivating the department to restore its K-9 program, and funded the 17-month-old purebred German Shepherd, imported from Europe.
The Pennsylvania facility where Titan trained about six weeks is owned by a retired Florida K-9 officer. Zbiegien said it graduated some 280 police service dogs last year.
“What Titan has at this point is a foundation to build upon ... dual-purpose certified in patrol and narcotics,” the lieutenant said. “Now he'll go through regular training with local K-9 groups, also a lot of his own, and he'll go back to Shallow Creek now and then. Anything special operations, their training never ends.”
Zbiegien's excitement is contagious; Mentor Police Department has been without a K-9 for a year. One patrolman was injured in a training accident and had to retire, thus retiring his dog; the most recent, Niko, passed away of a condition called bloat.
“For us to be without one, I don't know what the word is — it almost felt like we were naked,” he said. “It was one of those tools we didn't have anymore, but it's a vital tool in our job.”
Mutual aid agreements with other Lake County departments have helped keep Mentor safe since.
“For instance, we needed a dog yesterday (Thursday) for a possibly burglary in process and we utilized Painesville Police Department's. If we had one of duty it would have saved some time. Now we'll be able to benefit other departments in the county with Titan.”
Plus, plans are in place to add a second K-9, certified in narcotics detection and tracking, in early April; Patrolman Bill Mackey will be handler. The department is only waiting on the funding, but has already received boosts from Marc's stores — about $5,000 — Crossroads Lake County Adolescent Counseling Center and other donors.
“I have the invoice right in front of me for Titan and his training: $12,750,” Zbiegien said. “We'll get another one somehow, that's for sure.”
Titan and Wurgler's first official shift will be this Wednesday. The pair will normally work late afternoon-to-early morning shifts with regular demonstations, school visits and public appearances.
If you see them out, be sure to ask Patrolman Wurgler if it's OK to approach and welcome Titan to Mentor.
“They're a K-9 team,” Zbiegien said, “and they're going to be a good one.”