Rex top dog in Charleroi

Rex top dog in Charleroi

By Chris Buckley
Monday, December 8, 2008Buz u!

CHARLEROI – Waiting for the start of a preliminary hearing, Officer William Gardner listened as two shackled suspects in orange jump suits described the latest scuttlebutt in the county jail.

“They said the people in jail are talking about Rex and how many people he’s apprehended,” Gardner said. “He’s putting fear into these druggies.”

Gardner has been with his new partner for less than six months, but he already knows that Rex has a nose for crime fighting – it goes with his paws and bushy tail. And Rex is helping take back the streets of Charleroi.

Charleroi is not the only community to utilize a canine unit. Monessen police Officer Jim Quattro and dog, Dax, have been patrolling the city for about a year.

In Monongahela, Officer Larry Maraldo and dog Bennie should be patrolling together this month.

Gardner said he is an animal lover and welcomed the opportunity to have “an extra tool” in making drug arrests.

He mentioned one day that he would be interested in becoming a canine officer and a month later, Superintendent Mike Matyas approached him about the idea.

Gardner and Mike Garrow, a Uniontown Police Department K-9 handler who lives in Charleroi, traveled to Battle Ridge Kennels in West Virginia, where they picked up Rex, a Belgian malinois from the Netherlands. Garrow tests animals before he trains them.

Dogs used in canine units are mostly Dutch shepherds, German shepherds or Belgian malinois, all similar breeds.

Rex was not yet 2 years old when Gardner began training with him under Garrow’s tutelage. The first phase of the training involved aggression training, and searches of clothing and buildings.

The second phase involves narcotics searches in which the animal learned various odors.

Initial training lasted three months, but is ongoing.

“We train every week still,” Gardner said. “It’s never ending. He’ll train for the rest of his life. There’s always something for him to learn.”

Training occurs at many locations throughout the Mid-Mon Valley including the Mon Valley Emergency Medical Service site in Monessen and Camp Haven in Monongahela.

Gardner gives Rex commands in a foreign language.

The dog lives with the Gardner family, which also owns a pug. The dogs get along.

“He knows the difference between being at home and being on the job,” Gardner said of Rex. “He’s playful at home, but I wouldn’t want to be anyone who would try to sneak into my home.”

A Ford Explorer is specifically designed for the canine unit. Rex has his own cage in the back of the vehicle. The windows are barred.

Gardner does not transport prisoners in the vehicle. He said it takes teamwork for the canine team to be effective. He credited Matyas and the department for that support, along with Garrow for training.

He thanked council for providing the dog and expressed hope Charleroi one day will add a second police dog.

The canine unit has proved effective. Since Rex’s first day on the job, he has taken part in seven building searches, assisted in 11 criminal apprehensions and helped make 51 drug arrests.

Rex also tracked one person wanted on an arrest warrant who tried to escape on foot and found two children who had wandered from home.

When someone attempts to flea on foot, Gardner takes Rex out of the police cruiser and advises them to stop or he will release the dog. They usually comply.

He has been called upon to help with crowd control, including a weekend night in downtown California.

“We bring Rex out and the people get going,” Gardner said.

He takes Rex to other communities on occasion to help out.

Gardner takes Rex on foot patrols and utilizes his skill in traffic stops, when the dog often finds illegal drugs.

“You’re not going to get away with drugs in the car with him, he’s going to find them,” Gardner said.

Recently, Gardner initiated a traffic stop involving an expired license plate. The driver was wanted in Philadelphia. When Rex searched the car, he located a compartment under the dashboard where a quarter pound of marijuana was hidden.

Another time, Gardner pulled over a car and the driver got out and began running. Two passengers were about to do the same when Gardner took Rex out of the vehicle.

The pair stopped dead and dropped to the ground. The driver did the same.

“He’s extra security the minute he gets in the car with me,” Gardner said. “I can’t put a value on how much crime he’s stopped.”

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