Addressing an audience of nearly 100, Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh said the graduation, held in Courtroom One of the Chester County Justice Center, marked the culmination of a rigorous 10 weeks of training. Previously, the office’s K-9 teams traveled to Ohio to earn certification.
The graduates were SEPTA Police Officer Jackie Trower and his partner, Jagger, for patrol; Ridley Township Police Officer Matthew Rowan and his partner, Hannes, for patrol and narcotics; Ridley Township Police Officer Brian Judge and his partner, Zork, for patrol and narcotics; Chester County Deputy Sheriff Mike Sarro and his partner, Dexter, for patrol; Chester County Deputy Sheriff September Spencer, the office’s first female handler, and her partner, Luke, for narcotics and tracking; and Chester County Sheriff Brian Bolt and his partner, Yukon, who qualified as a canine trainer.
The program also included a tribute to Buster, one of the first K-9s in the Chester County Sheriff’s Office. Buster, who died earlier this year, served with former Chester County Lt. John Freas. Welsh thanked the team for its service, but then choked up when she made eye contact with Freas’ wife, Wendy Baigis. Welsh explained that the dogs become beloved members of their handler’s family, making the loss difficult for everyone to bear.
Welsh gave credit for the certification course to County Deputy Sheriff Paul Bryant, a Level III trainer for the U.S. Police Canine Association; Chester County Lt. Harry McKinney, a master trainer for the National Association of Professional Canine Handlers; and Bolt, previously a training assistant.
Bryant, who joined the Chester County Sheriff’s Office after spending nearly three decades with the Philadelphia Police Department as a K-9 instructor, said the impetus for the county’s training program started after he began receiving calls from other agencies that wanted to know if he was still available for training assistance – inquiries that he forwarded to McKinney. Recognizing the economic sense of using in-house resources for the new K-9 teams, McKinney said a county training program would also help to strengthen the skills of the existing teams, and Welsh readily agreed.
Welsh said that the 10 dogs in the Chester County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit respond to several calls each week. The most frequent involve searches of vehicles or buildings by teams trained to detect narcotics or explosives. Equally in demand is Melody, the office’s comfort dog, who often calms children who have to testify at trial or eases stress for all in custody disputes.