Once unwanted, shelter dog becomes PD's first K-9 in decades
"I evaluated Arrow and decided that a lot of the behavior that most people would find challenging was actually exactly the behavior we're looking for to develop into police work"
By George Woolston
Burlington County Times, Willingboro, N.J.
WESTAMPTON, N.J. — Arrow the Belgian Malinois is the Lower Southampton Township, Pennsylvania Police Department's first K-9 since the 1960s.
But before he became a police K-9, he had lived at the Burlington County Animal Shelter for nearly eight months.
On Wednesday, Arrow and his handler Patrolman Kyle Heasley returned to the shelter for the first time since he was rescued to visit with those who saw his potential.
Arrow had been surrendered twice to the shelter since early last year. One owner said Arrow didn't get along well with the family's other animal; another found Arrow to be to overprotective of his wife.
But Deb Bucci, an animal attendant at the shelter, wasn't buying it.
"Their brains, especially in the Malinois, are continuous, and when they are locked in the kennel they go crazy," Bucci said. She saw the potential in Arrow, and would work with him every chance she got.
As months passed without any suitors for Arrow, Bucci posted about him on Facebook in a last ditch effort. And Angela Connor answered the call.
Connor is the co-founder and chief financial officer of the Rescue 22 Foundation, a nonprofit that trains dogs to help disabled veterans.
"I knew that was very unlikely that Arrow would be a fit for a service dog," Connor said. "I came in and evaluated Arrow and decided that a lot of the behavior that most people would find challenging was actually exactly the behavior we're looking for to develop into police work."
Arrow was confident, intelligent, very eager to please his human and had a strong drive to work for food and toys.
"And, you know, the energy," Connor added.
Connor and Rescue 22 rescued Arrow last summer and worked with him for three months. Then, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Police K-9 Training Unit, Connor was was able to find Arrow not only a home, but a job.
In September, Lower Southampton Patrolman Kyle Heasley began working with Arrow full-time. Arrow is trained as both a patrol dog and drug scent dog, Heasley said.
"Everybody in the community is very supportive and very happy that we now have a police dog," Heasley said. "The department's happy, so are all the fellow officers. He's been a great addition to the department."
Not only that, but he's also been a great addition to Heasley's family.
"He is just like a family dog when we go home. He knows when to turn it off. He knows when we go to work," Heasley said.
When Bucci got to see Arrow on Wednesday, she was overjoyed.
"I want to grab him and hug him, but I know I can't. He is no longer my dog," Bucci said as she gave Arrow a gift bag full of goodies.
BUCKS COUNTY: Lower Southampton's Police Department just grew by one (well four legs to be exact). After being surrendered to the @BurlCoNJ, K9 Officer 'Arrow' has a new home and new job thanks to two special rescuers who wouldn't give up on him. @CBSPhilly at 11pm. @LSPD43 pic.twitter.com/LboVIZQgkv— Alicia Roberts (@ARobertsCBS) May 6, 2021
"One good story absolutely trumps the 10 bad ones that we have on a daily basis," Burlington County Animal Shelter Director Ericka Haines said. "This makes it such a good, good thing and hopefully we're finding the right direction and having more positive stories than the negatives."
Haines said the shelter is working to better assess dogs and their needs — like Bucci did with Arrow — to reduce the amount of times a dog is returned to the shelter from failed adoptions.
"We analyze and look at what their reactions are (to other dogs and shelter staff) so that we can better gauge where the next home should be for that dog," Haines said. "Unfortunately a lot of dogs that come to shelters do need special fits. So that's why we take the time to make sure that we do that."
George Woolston is a reporter for the Burlington County Times, Courier-Post and Vineland Daily Journal. Help support local journalism with a subscription.
(c)2021 Burlington County Times, Willingboro, N.J.