BENNINGTON —The Bennington County Sheriff and Bennington police are teaming up to raise funds to add police dogs to their departments and purchase related training materials and equipment.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette approached the Selectboard last fall about establishing a K-9 police dog program, with the intent of raising the funds as a department, that calls for $8,000. Sheriff Chad Schmidt on the other hand, must raise $25,000 due to the difference in department funding sources. Both programs are separate and both departments each want to have their own K-9 unit. But both agencies agreed to work together to raise funds.
"With my experience in fundraising, we decided to work together," Doucette said.
"The dinner is one of a few things we'll be doing," Schmidt said.
On April 1 there will be a fundraiser dinner at the Bennington Elks Club on Washington Ave. hosted by the Sheriff's office including an auction. Plates will consist of prime rib or baked stuffed chicken breast and baked potatoes, vegetables and a side salad, by Sr. Deputy Fred Gilbar, for $35 per person. Jonathan Goldsmith, a resident of Bennington County, an actor and Dos Equis alcoholic beverage endorser, will be present to provide entertainment and sign autographs.
Moreover, dinner attendants will have the opportunity to take part in games, raffles and be entered to win gift certificates to local businesses and other donated items. It starts at 5 p.m. and tickets can be bought at either department, Ramunto's Brick Oven Pizza at 519 Main St. or Crazy Russian Girls Neighborhood Bakery at 443 Main St. When Goldsmith spoke at the 55th annual meeting of Second Chance Animal Center in 2014, he asked Doucette why the police department didn't have a K-9 unit, which is partially what sparked the chief to pursue the program.
Currently, the Vermont State Police has a K-9 dog that works five days a week and can't always help other departments. Bennington County also receives help from the Rensselaer (New York) County Police K-9, Doucette said.
Sergeant Joel Howard created a GoFundMe page for the cause on Feb. 8 and it has since taken in $520 out of the desired $25,000. The demand for a dogs stems from the substance abuse problem in Bennington County driving up the crime rate, according to the page's description.
"It's not going to fix all of our problems," Schmidt said.
"It'll clean up more than we have been," Doucette said. "It's an essential tool for what we do and we have a need for it right now."
The desired K-9 must be able to do narcotic detection and tracking. Two options of obtaining a dog include getting a puppy from a breeder with a history in training dogs for law enforcement and take it through obedience classes starting at age 1, or locate a company that would bring a dog to the law enforcement handler, which is more expensive, and hope that it's pre-existing training will pass the required test. Schmidt said the latter is riskier.
The K-9 program also works with local schools in doing demos and lock down drills as well as assisting in locating a missing person.
Doucette mentioned that he has many officers interested in becoming a K-9 handler but has not chosen anyone yet while Schmidt has someone in mind. The West Mountain Animal Hospital has also offered its services to the police department throughout the puppy's training. It would first get acquainted with the handler and travel with him or her and come to work to get familiarized with the building.
"We did agree that if we got a dog, it would be available through a mutual aid program to others," Doucette said after talking about sharing the program with Manchester and surrounding departments when necessary.
In the last year, Bennington County has had more drug overdoses in the last year than Rensselaer and Washington counties in New York. There are 17 towns and 675 square miles in Bennington County with 14 blacktop highways that pass through, according to the GoFundMe page description.
Representative Mary Morrissey R-Bennington is also on board in obtaining a K-9, Doucette said.
"There's a lot of people that support the program and once it's up and running with a budget, we'll be able to sustain the program," Doucette said.
To support the fundraiser, visit www.gofundme.com/6gnbkvv8.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at 802-447-7567, ext. 118.