And with the McKean County District Attorney’s Office and County Detective Bureau K-9 Unit, seven noses know a whole lot more than would-be criminals might think.
On Wednesday, officers, handlers, canines and District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer stopped by The Era to introduce Rigby, LG and Nico.
The other four K-9s — Izzy, Dutchess, Dixie and Roxy — are tracking dogs.
Rigby and LG are narcotics detection dogs, while Nico is an explosives detection canine. Bob Rinfrette, a long-time law enforcement officer, and his wife Vickie, both of Limestone, NY, are canine trainers and work for the drug task force. They trained all three.
As Rigby happily trotted through the Era office, carrying his toy, Bob Rinfrette said with a smile, “He’s not aggressive, he’s just like a bull in a China shop.”
A black German Shepherd, Rigby is 19 months old and is eager to work, said Officer Dakota Eaton, a Bradford City Police officer and Rigby’s human partner. They were at the National Night Out event in Bradford earlier in the week, but Rigby is a little too new at his job to greet crowds.
“With his size, he might knock someone over,” Rinfrette said of the dog. LG and Nico happily greeted people, and were a big hit, Shaffer said. “The children loved them.”
Both are older and more used to being around groups of people, while Rigby is still in training.
And more training is in store for Rigby in the future.
“He’s got a natural ability to track,” Rinfrette said of Rigby. “It’d be a shame not to use that.”
Eaton said, “He’s always searching for something. Once I get him out of the crate, his nose is on the ground and he’s wanting to find something.
Giving a bit of background about the dog, Rinfrette explained he learned of his availability from a sheriff he knew in the Finger Lakes region. Rigby was in Massachusetts. When he came available, Rinfrette had a friend who was in the area stop and get him.
Rigby had Lyme disease, but is doing very well, he said. Rigby is living with Eaton now, and is still in the “getting into everything” stage. Rinfrette said the dogs are like a 2-year-old child, always looking for stimulation. There’s no “off switch,” Eaton said.
As Rigby trotted over to Rinfrette with his toy, chewing on the handle end of his toy rather than the ball end, Rinfrette said, “You’ve got to watch them all the time. They get into trouble.”
Rigby isn’t on duty as of yet, but will be soon.
“We’re still in training. He’ll be coming to work with me when we’re done,” Eaton said.
Shaffer said the pair will work in the City of Bradford where Eaton is an officer. Sgt. Seth Shephard and his K-9 partner Duke work for the City of Bradford, with the agreement that they will assist where they are called. And Shaffer said Chief Mike Ward and Mayor James McDonald have a great working relationship with the DA’s office.
Having more dogs available to help out will be a great benefit to the community.
“Bob gets called to do searches a lot, up at the federal prison, at McKean County Jail, at schools,” Shaffer said. “The dogs can’t do an entire building by themselves so Bob relies on other people. With his connections from him, people are always willing to do it.
There are K-9 units from Buffalo, NY, that regularly assist, along with handlers from other areas.
“We needed more dogs,” Shaffer said. “We’re excited.”
She said County Detective Ryan Yingling had approached her about expanding the K-9 Unit.
“The canine unit is continuing to grow. It’s going to benefit the whole county.”
Shaffer expressed her appreciation to the county commissioners for allowing them to expand the unit.
LG, a 9-year-old black lab, was the first narcotics detection dog with the DA’s office. Still spry and happy, he did a lap around The Era greeting people and playing with his toy. Nico, a German Shepherd from Hungary, was the only female of the group. She, too, took a look around the office, with a somewhat regal manner.
When Rinfrette gave Nico a search command, all play stopped, her manner changed and she was all work.
The handlers explained safety is a big concern for the animals when they are searching. Shaffer said she’s been in contact with an organization that donates Narcan, goggles and vests for working dogs.
“I’ve done this most of my life,” Rinfrette said, explaining he’s been involved with training K-9s for 40 years. “Ella She’s the best boss I ever had,” he said, nodding toward Shaffer. “I’m used to doing everything on my own.”
With Shaffer, if the Rinfrettes ask for something, she works to get it. She supports them completely, and she appreciates what they do, he said.
Shaffer added her appreciation as well. “We’re very lucky to have Bob and Vickie’s knowledge,” Shaffer said. The couple have trained dogs for years, and to have them here to work and to answer questions is invaluable.
All the humans stressed the importance of the message the dogs bring to the public.
Shaffer said, “For me, it’s the pro-police, anti-drug message. The dog is an ambassador. (People) get to meet a friendly face and learn about awareness.”
Rinfrette said children may forget the police officer’s name or what he talked about, but that dog and the positive interaction will stay in their minds for a long time.
Shaffer explained the K-9 unit won’t be funded with taxpayer dollars, but rather by donations.
“We’re primarily going to be accepting donations for the K-9 unit,” Shaffer said. “We’re always promoting how great they are.”
A cornhole tournament will be held Sept. 17 by the Seneca Law Enforcement Association to raise money for the K-9 units as well. More information will be forthcoming.
For more information on donating, contact the District Attorney’s office.