BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — Officer Mario Checchi and Caesar the K9, of the Bellows Falls Police Department, have been a crime-fighting team for the past three years.

When the two first met, Caesar was a timid puppy and was afraid of floors and stairs.

“He had a lot of fears with surfaces,” Checchi said. Now the dog is fearlessly busting drug dealers.

Checchi is Caesar’s handler and an avid dog lover. He always loved police work and wanted to work with animals. Growing up, Checchi idolized his uncle, who worked as the K9 handler for a New York police department. There were probably only three days, in middle school, where Checchi didn’t know that being a K9 handler was what he wanted to do with his life, he said. Checchi originally worked for the Walpole, N.H., Police Department. He thought about implementing a K9 program there but wasn’t able to.

In 2014, Checchi met Caesar, who was donated to the police department by the Vermont State Police Canine Association. Checchi and Caesar had to go through a six-month training process at the Vermont Canine Academy to get certified. Then they attended another six-month course to get Caesar certified to track people.

“He developed real, real fast,” Checchi said. “Not only with obedience training, but with his own confidence.”

Caesar is a Belgian Malinois, which, Checchi said, is usually a high-energy breed. But Caesar is low-key, Checchi said, and “great with kids.”

Caesar and Checchi start each shift with 45 minutes of play. This is when Checchi gets Caesar prepared for the day.

“I like to get him energized,” he said. In a larger agency, Checchi said, his only job would be to work with Caesar answering K9 calls. Checchi still has the same responsibilities as other Bellows Falls police officers, so Caesar spends a lot of time hanging out with Checchi as he does paperwork or responds to non-K9 calls.

“I really couldn’t ask for a better partner,” he said. “He’s good at sensing when you’re having a bad day.”

When Caesar’s not working he goes back home to Checchi’s house. He’s a part of the family.

Caesar’s services have been needed many times. He’s assisted in catching someone involved in a robbery of a Sunoco gas station, tracked a suspect down in Springfield and most recently helped BFPD confiscate 1,000 bags of suspected heroin.

“He’s very excited to do his job,” Checchi said.

Having a K9 in Bellows Falls deters criminal activity, Checchi said. Criminals are less likely to traffic contraband into town if they know there’s a K9 who can sniff it out. Police can pull people over in vehicles or stop them if they’ve committed a civil violation. Once they’ve stopped someone, if they have a reason to suspect drugs, Caesar can be deployed. Caesar can smell the outside of a vehicle or home. When Caesar finds something like drugs, he indicates to the police what he’s found by scratching the surface. Once Caesar signals, police can get a search warrant. Caesar has been deployed on about 400 to 500 searches, Checchi said. “He does not false alert,” he said.

Overall Checchi is just glad he gets to work with Caesar.

“I couldn’t ask for a better dog,” Checchi said. “He’s been a huge benefit, not only for me but for the community and the department.”

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Information from: Brattleboro Reformer, http://www.reformer.com/

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HARMONY BIRCH
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