By Lindsay Carey
The Southington American Legion is launching fundraising efforts in order to donate training and safety gear to help out a couple special officers at the Southington Police Department, the K-9s.
Steve Pintarich, from the American Legion, said that he began the initiative earlier this year and it is finally taking off now that he has a complete list of the items that the K-9 officers need.
“Any safety equipment would definitely be beneficial for them,” said Police Spokesman Sgt. Jeff Dobratz.
The idea all began with an advertisement Pintarich saw for a first aid class for pets. He said in the advertisement it recommended that K-9 officers take the course.
The Southington Police Department K-9 Unit is made up of handler Officer John Mahon and his K-9 Arnor and Officer Stephen Salerno and his K-9 Lou.
“Captain Palmieri and I go to church together,” said Pintarich. “And one day I asked him, what kind of training have we done with those officers, because those dogs are worth $40,000 or $50,000 and it’s only a $30 course.”
Pintarich approached and gained the support of his fellow veterans to financially aid the police department’s dogs.
The American Legion paid to send Southington K-9 officers to class and Pintarich attended too, along with his therapy dog. The officers learned what they can do to help an injured dog, but for Pintarich that was only the first step towards keeping them safe.
He said that at the training class he spoke with Officer Steve Salerno and in talking to him, Pintarich realized the deficiency in equipment that the K-9 unit has.
“About five or six years ago, there was an accidental shooting when an officer shot one of their own police dogs,” said Pintarich. “They had nothing, all they could do was grab the dog, put him in the cruiser and take off to the vet.”
According to Pintarich, since then, the Southington PD has built their own first aid kits for their dogs. However, there are still some things that are missing.
“All the trucks from Southington Fire Department have oxygen masks for pets, but the fire department doesn’t go out with the police when they go on drug raids and stuff like that,” said Pintarich.
Two pet oxygen rescue masks, at $200 each, are on the list of items that the Legion is hoping to purchase for the K-9s. Other items include a GPS tracking system that will allow officers to view a map showing where the dogs have searched will cost another $1,500 and another $600 worth of training tools, like new collars with recall and search tools, and rewards for the dogs when they have done well.
Legion members are also are hoping to raise $5,000 to replace the bite suits that the officers use to train the dogs, as the ones currently in use are outdated and can lead to injuries.
The Legion is also pursuing donations from local pet groomers and a local veterinary to assemble a first aid kit for the officer’s vehicles.
The Legion has currently raised $300 from donations alone.
Pintarich has also already begun to make progress by solving an immediate need for the K9’s, tinted windows for the hot weather. He said Salerno’s cruiser will get darker tints to keep his dog cool.
Pintarich has also recently spoken to the manager at the Chilis in town to do a fundraiser there in the near future.
“When something’s got to get done, I’m the one to do it,” said Pintarich. “People will help you. They just don’t want to be the one to start it.”