Hanging up his leash: With his partner retiring, APD K-9 officer is promoted



After seven years of service, Amsterdam Police Department K-9 Hyde is hanging up his leash.

The 8-year-old German Shepherd has worked with his handler, K-9 Officer Stephen Pasquarelli, since 2007. Now that Pasquarelli has been promoted to detective, the department thinks Hyde deserves retirement.

"We're inseparable, he's a part of my family," Pasquarelli said. "He came to work with me every day I worked for the last seven years. I can't imagine talking about losing a partner because I choke up realizing my dog's last day as a full-time K-9 was May 30. It's tough."

Pasquarelli went with Sgt. Carl Rust seven years ago to Connecticut Canine Services to get Hyde.

"I knew nothing about the dogs at the time," Pasquarelli said. "Sgt. Rust put the dogs through a test, and then told me he could make three of the dogs work in our K-9 unit, and I had to choose which one we would take. So I took them each for a walk and Hyde was the one I came back with. There was something I liked about him. He came out as a rough and tough guy, but when you got him out alone he was a social dog; he was just a nice dog. "

Rust said police dogs are purchased when they're 12- to 14-months-old. He said they don't have any training when they're purchased; he selects the dog solely on natural instincts: how sociable it is, how strong its grip is and how good its abilities are to track and hunt.

"The natural drives and abilities they're born with, that's what we look for," Rust said. "Most importantly, we look for their social ability; we like a dog that's very sociable. We don't look for the household pet, because they would drive anyone crazy. These dogs are high-maintenance, and they want to constantly go, go, go, and that's what I look for."

"I look for their behavior because I'm a complete stranger when I first meet the dog, and I want to know how social it'll be. That old myth of the dog tearing people apart isn't true, a big part of this job is public relations -- people petting the dog, getting to know the dog," Rust continued.

Once the dog is purchased, the new K-9 officer trains with Rust and the dog over a 10-week period to perfect the dog's patrolling skills. An additional five-week training course is administered for the dog's drug certification so that the dog can be trained for both narcotics detection and patrol work.

Once the training is finished, the New York State Bureau of Municipal Police tests the dog for a certification they must pass in order to be part of the K-9 unit.

When Pasquarelli first got Hyde, he said his experience was a "mess."

"It's like getting a Corvette, and you don't even know how to drive yet," he said.

However, only a couple years later ,Hyde and Pasquarelli were the dynamic duo, finding illegal drugs and criminals.

"My favorite find with Hyde was on Grand Street, where everyone searched this house for drugs," Pasquarelli said. "Detectives guaranteed me there was going to be some type of narcotic in this house, but they couldn't find it, they could not find it at all. I was relatively new at the time, and I walked around the house with Hyde, and he kept going back to this corner of the house. A detective at the time told me he searched that corner already, and there was nothing there. Sgt. Rust taught me from the very beginning to trust my dog, always trust the dog. So I trusted my dog, I was ready to take that corner down to sheet rock if I had to, but finally I found quite a bit of cocaine high up under some molding in that very corner. I'll always love that memory with Hyde."

Pasquarelli said Hyde acted as his "eyes and ears" when they would patrol the streets of Amsterdam at night.

"That's why they call them the guardians of the night," he said. "If I'm in trouble he knows, there's nothing that'll slow him down or scare him away if dad's in trouble, no matter what he has to face."

Rust chimed in.

"Notice how he said 'Dad?' We refer to these dogs as our own kids, the amount of time you spend with them feels almost like raising a kid," Rust said. "They used to tell me 20 years ago in the academy that the leash was like an umbilical cord, they feed off your emotions, they can tell when you're upset, they just know. They become family."

For Pasquarelli, Hyde has become an official member of the family now that he's retired, because he adopted Hyde as his very own.

"Dog handlers almost always take the dog on as their own once the dog retires," Rust said. "It's just natural."

Now that Pasquarelli has been promoted, and Hyde has retired, the K-9 unit is in need of a new dynamic duo.

"This is a seven- to eight-year commitment, and the right K-9 officer has to have a high interest level," Rust said. "It's important for the officer and the dog to like each other, and like what they're doing, because they have to grow together as a team in order to be successful."

Rust, who has 20 years of experience in the K-9 unit, knows when an officer is right for the job. He said he can just tell when the officer picks the dog.

Currently the APD is raising money through the sale of K-9 unit T-shirts for a new dog because the purchase of a dog alone is between $6,000 to $8,000.

"The reason we're selling T-shirts is because after 20 years in the K-9 unit, I have found tons of support in the community," Rust said. "I can go to the city administrators and say I need an allocated fund to purchase this dog, but I want to do it different, I don't want to do that until I absolutely have to. So far, the purchase of all these canines since 2000 have been funded through the community, so the dog is the community's dog, too. I like how that works, I like the community being involved."

Rust said he's sold about 350 T-shirts and has received sponsorships from local businesses, totaling roughly half of the overall dog cost.

He said he goes to local events promoting the T-shirts, while promoting the K-9 unit at the same time.

The new officer and dog are expected to enter the force soon, but in the meantime, Hyde is working part-time, and Pasquarelli starts his new position as detective Sunday.

As much as he's excited about the promotion, however, he said he still misses working with his best friend.

"There's a giant void. When I'm driving in the patrol car, and I look in the back expecting him to be there, and he's not, but I know I get to come home to him."