The Locust Valley High School gymnasium was abuzz with activity on a recent afternoon. Like usual, there was running, jumping and participants taking direction from their trainers. Unlike a typical afternoon, on this day, those demonstrating their skills on the gymnasium floor were German Shepherds who are part of an MTA police K-9 team.
The visit was arranged by the high school’s Back the Blue Club, which supports Police Officers through fundraisers and events that raise awareness of the important work the police department does.
Police Officer Allen Kirsch and his five-year-old dog Sentry demonstrated how an experienced explosives detection dog can keep the public safe. Sentry was placed in front of a maze of cardboard boxes and led through them. As he came to one with the scent of explosives, he sat down to alert Officer Kirsch. Four other dogs, each close to two years old, demonstrated their skills as well, including commands important in the field such as come, sit, down, stay and heel. The younger dogs, which were said to still be in training, were still impressively obedient.
Officer Kirsch said the dogs work together on a regular basis and are an important part of the police department, performing tasks that their human counterparts cannot.
Back the Blue adviser Rita Conforti-Spence said the K-9 visit was a highlight for the club. “The demonstration by the dogs and their handlers was most impressive and made all of us understand what an important part they play in protecting us in public places.”
Ms. Conforti-Spence explained that the Back the Blue Club was conceived by a group of Locust Valley students who wished to honor the dedicated people who serve our community every day and put their lives on the line to protect each and every one of us.
MTA Sgt. Ryan Doherty, a Locust Valley High School alumnus, joined the K-9 handlers for the visit as did Lisa Tuozzolo, the wife of fallen Police Officer Paul Tuozzolo, also a Locust Valley High School alumnus. One of the dogs attending the demonstration, Zolo is named for Sgt. Tuozzolo. Transit Officers all name their dogs for fallen officers or members of the military. Zolo is handled by Police Officer Patrick Schondebare, who said he is honored to partner with Zolo.
Sgt. Doherty explained to the group of students and staff members attending the demonstration the importance of the work these K-9 teams do and the dangers Police Officers face. He said this was the only Back the Blue Club he was aware of in a high school and that it meant a lot to know the school supports the police department. He presented the club with a certificate and following the demonstration, the club members and Police Officers posed for photos in front of the plaque that honors Sgt. Tuozzolo.
Special thanks to the entire K-9 team, which also included Police Officer Charlie Spahr and his dog Hoss (named in honor of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Anthony L. Mangano), Police Officer Alison Schmitt and her dog Mac (named in honor of NYPD Detective Steven D. McDonald) and Police Officer Giselle Gil and her dog Willie (named in honor of NYPD Officer William Rivera).