Rony will get his vest

PAT FRIDGEN
Peggy McQuitty, left, presented Greencastle Police Officer Keith Russell with a $1,050 check on behalf of citizens who donated money for a protective vest for Rony. Russell is the handler for the canine member of the police department.

The smallest member of the Greencastle Police Department will now be more protected as he goes about his duties. Rony, a German Shepherd/Malinois, will sport a Kevlar vest for certain situations. Handler Keith Russell will make the judgment calls as to when.

Williamson resident Peggy McQuitty started a fund drive for a bulletproof vest after she met the partners at Greencastle's Sidewalk Days. She was astounded that the canine was not allotted the same protection as a human officer for dangerous situations. Russell and his peers wear a vest while on duty. A vest for an animal cost $1,000 plus shipping, and that was not in the budget for 2009.

Rony came onboard in July, the result of a citizen donation to the borough. Russell applied and was accepted to be his handler. He had previous experience with a K-9 in another municipality. The two attended training together and Rony is now part of the Russell family when off duty.

The vest weighs seven-and-a-half pounds. As a bonus, it is also stab-proof. McQuitty was delighted to hear the news. Because the armor would restrict Rony's ability to perspire through panting, and is cumbersome, Russell will put it on the dog if something unusual comes up while on routine patrol, or if they are dispatched to a dangerous setting.

The two have meshed well in their policing procedures. Rony has made an impact in resolving incidents efficiently.

One such situation is when they find an unlocked door. The customary pattern is for an officer to call three times for any intruder to come out. If no one responds, the officer and a backup will search the building. Now Russell is able to send Rony in. They have found instant success when someone actually did enter a building, rather than the owner inadvertantly left it unlocked. When trespassers discover a dog is present, they come out. Recently that happened in an apartment that was supposed to be vacant.

"It's so nice now," said Russell. "The bad guys come to me."

Because suspects understand a dog's speed, many have decided to drop rather than run when Russell encounters them or pulls over their vehicles.

"Rony makes my life so much safer," he added. "To him it's all a game. He's not mean or anything. He has a good temperament."

And Rony gets a reward for obeying commands, such as a tennis ball or piece of leather hose to chew for a short time.

Rony put on a demonstration for McQuitty at the police station. Russell had hidden a tiny amount of cocaine in a sealed package. The small officer found it quickly and sat down next to the location. He then played with his reward.

Because residents answered the call for help, Rony's piece of uniform was ordered. He will now also be safer if he and his partner find themselves in a situation where the 'bad guy' fights back rather than drops to the ground.