MTA Police Canine 2015 Graduates – New York’s Furriest

The most recent Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)  police graduates came heeling into Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall October 21st amid the Pomp And Circumstance Walking Commencement March and the MTA Pipe & Drum Band Ceremonial Unit presenting of the colors.

MTA Pipe & Drum Corps presents the colors at the MTA Police Canine Explosive Detection Graduation

MTA Pipe & Drum Band Ceremonial Unit presents the colors at the MTA Police Canine Explosive Detection Graduation

After bagpipe music filled the cavernous terminal, everyone fell silent when the Phantom of the Opera’s Marcus Lovett sang the National Anthem. A moment of national pride.

Only thing better than hearing bagpipes in Grand Central Terminal is Marcus Lovett singing the National Anthem

Only thing better than hearing bagpipes in Grand Central Terminal is Marcus Lovett singing the National Anthem

This ceremony was like none other.

Marcus Lovett during rehearsal. He sang the National Anthem after the presenting of colors and America The Beautiful during the recessional

Marcus Lovett, left, during rehearsal. He sang the National Anthem after the presenting of colors and America The Beautiful during the recessional

Among the 19 law enforcement canine graduates, there were 15 MTA police dogs and two from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. There were German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, several that were a mix of those two breeds, and two adorable yellow labs, hailing from the United States Park Police. The proud canine handlers and their partners walked forward, one-by-one, executed a sit, and received their new badges dangling from a collar hung around their necks.

Graduates received either the 12-week explosive detection training and / or the 16-week anti-terrorism training at the MTA’s 72-acre training facility in Stormville, NY. During the ceremony the canine unit’s executive officer Lt. John Kerwick, explained how these dogs are a valuable tool with, “four legs, a brain, keen instincts, good eyesight and a nose that is 3000 times stronger than humans. They can interrupt a threat to keep MTA customers and employees safe.” One dog can scan an unattended package in minutes versus calling in the bomb squad. The MTA Police Canine Unit, founded in 2002, is one of the largest explosives detection units in the country. They have approximately 50 dogs, which last year responded to 25,860 requests for service and inspected and cleared 2,584 unattended packages.

Each handler received a diploma, each canine received a badge, and each family of the dog's namesake received a plaque

Each handler received a diploma, each canine received a badge, and each family of the dog’s namesake received a plaque. Then all posed for a group photo to commemorate graduation

Connecticut MTA Police Canines 

And while these police canines are first responders to a dangerous threat, they also carry a tribute each time their handler calls their name. Each of them is named for a fallen hero or dedicated officer. As each graduate received his badge, the family members of the canine’s namesake were invited to come to the podium to share a moment of sacrifice and service that the dog’s name will carry on. Each family received a commemorative plaque with the dog’s photo, name and a description of the officer’s sacrifice and service. Three of the graduates live in Connecticut and these are their stories.

K-9 George and MTA Police Officer Allan Fong from Fairfield. George was named in honor of Police Officer George Wong of the NYPD, who died on May 24, 2011, from illnesses he contracted after inhaling toxic materials as he participated in the rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Fong said he wanted to name his dog after Wong, who helped him as a young NYPD officer.  He and George have been through months of training in tracking, article recovery, subject searching, wide field search, and handler protection. The 91-pound German Shepherd/Malinois mixed-breed is Fong’s first police dog.

K-9 George and MTA Police Officer Allan Fong after graduation

K-9 George and MTA Police Officer Allan Fong after graduation

“He has a very good temperament, is great at home, loves coming to work, loves being in the back of the truck,” Fong said. “He can’t get enough of coming to work!” And while his main purpose is to patrol MTA properties, he also assists other agencies in need of assistance, such as tracking down lost children. Each dog and handler develop a deep bond working so many hours together. “I’m with him like almost 24/7,” Fong said. “I spend more time with George than I do with my wife or kids.”

K-9 Johnny and MTA Police Officer Kevin Pimpinelli of Naugatuck. Johnny is named in honor of Sergeant John Mullen of the MTA Police Department, who suffered a fatal heart attack while on duty on January 26, 2007. Mullen was Pimpinelli’s supervisor for many years. In fact, Pimpinelli’s first dog, Mullen was also named for the late MTA sergeant. There were 12 Mullen family members in attendance at Johnny’s graduation.

K-9 Johnny as he appears on his own trading card. Each of the MTA Police Canines have cards that handlers can share with children. On the back of the card Johnny says, "If you see something, say something."

K-9 Johnny as he appears on his own trading card. Each of the MTA Police Canines have cards that handlers can share with children. On the back of the card Johnny says, “If you see something, say something.”

K-9 Johnny had a blast at the graduation. “He’s a social dog, loves people petting him, little kids walk right up to him and even loves getting a belly rub,” Pimpinelli said. The two-year-old purebred German Shepherd was born in the Netherlands. He is fully trained for explosives detection and certified in NY and CT. K-9 Johnny can detect about 15 different explosive odors. “Once he finds one, he’ll sit and stare right at that item. Then I have to interpret what he is doing.” Pimpinelli explained. It’s this communication between dog and handler that creates a great team.

Pimpinelli said that his first dog Mullen is retired and lives as his home. He joked that Johnny and Mullen both vie for his attention. “They both sleep in the bedroom, one is on one side of the bed and one is on the other side of the bed. Sometimes, they both try to be on just one side.”

K-9 Vinny and MTA Sgt. William Finucane of Guildford. Vinny is named in honor of Sgt. Vincent J. Oliva of the Port Authority Police Department, who died on November 27, 2013, after a battle with cancer. Sergeant Oliva led the Port Authority Police Department’s Canine Unit. Today, Sgt. Finucane, is the head trainer for the MTA police canine unit. It was him and three assistant trainers — police officers John Brazil, Nelson Hernandez, and Allen Kirsch — that trained the 2015 graduating class.

Sgt. William Finucane asked K-9 Vinny to sit to receive his new badge at the MTA Police Canine graduation at Grand Central Terminal

Sgt. William Finucane asked K-9 Vinny to sit to receive his new badge at the MTA Police Canine graduation at Grand Central Terminal

K-9 Vinny, is Finucane’s fifth dog, and came to him serendipitously. “He wasn’t a planned dog. Vinny was going to replace another dog that was having problems, but he made it. So now I have a dog with no handler,” Finucane recalled. His dog was 12 years old and ready to retire, so Vinny became his.

Thanks to Lt. John Kerwick for inviting me to this very special occasion!

Lt. John Kerwick, his recent graduate K-9 Seabee, a German Shepherd, and me.

Lt. John Kerwick, his recent graduate K-9 Seabee, a German Shepherd, and me.

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