Following the recent medical retirement of Wilton’s last police dog, Enzo, the Wilton Police Department has recently welcomed its new K-9 team, as Patrol Officer Eric Patenaude began training with his new partner, Baso. With just a few weeks together under their belt (and leash), the duo is proving to be a very successful match.
Like most police dogs, Baso lives at home with Patenaude, and is scheduled to complete his initial training and bonding in October. Patenaud is very pleased with how training is going so far and says the way everything looks to be headed, “We have a phenomenal dog.”
Patenaude first got his dog-handling experience while he was with the US Marine Corps, working with two different military dogs during his combat tours of duty with the Marine Corps Special Ops Command in Afghanistan.
“It’s a little different, but just as exciting,” he says. Aside from that, he wasn’t really a “dog person” before at all, admitting that perhaps his only pet growing up was a stray cat. “I was in my mid-20s before I got my first dog.”
But seeing the military K-9s in action sparked something in Patenaude.
“During my second deployment (in 2010), the first one in Afghanistan, I got the chance to work with one of the teams that had a K-9 handler. Watching how he worked and what they did, I was blown away by what the dog could do and what the training was. Just how they were utilizing him. I had always known how police and the military used dogs, but I’d never seen it first hand. When I got the chance to see what he could do, I said, ‘I want to do that!'”
Once he got back stateside in California, he started actively pursuing the chance to become a dog handler, and was able to train to realize that desire for his second tour in Afghanistan in 2012. “I called the kennel master, I called handlers, anyone I could think of. Finally I got a call, and they sent me to Alabama for a 16 week course with next-generation counter-explosives detection dogs. They based training off of hunting dogs.”
That was followed by more training, this time at a multi-purpose K-9 school in Indiana, with a base in special forces operations. The dog he trained with there, Harko, was the dog he deployed with when he went back overseas. “Being able to learn, to see what goes into it, I was hooked,” Patenaude says.
His military background, combined with his K-9 handling experience made him the ideal person to step into the role of Wilton’s K-9 officer after the previous officer to hold that role, Steve Rangel, was promoted to sergeant. With two years on the Wilton force, Patenaude jumped at the chance.
He started the process of helping to select the right dog and begin bonding and training a little over a month ago. He was matched with a 14-month old sable German Shepherd named Baso, and immediately began assessing his potential. Baso came from Grasso’s German Shepherds in Shelton, which brings dogs to the United States to become police dogs.
“Erich Grasso has a whole selection process that he goes through before the dogs even leave Europe, then goes through another selection when they get here to make sure they’ll be good enough for his standard. Then Frank Rita, out of Norwalk, runs Superior K-9 Services, and is the trainer, and he is the last filter to make sure this dog is the best we can get,” Patenaude explains.
Baso and Patenaude are going through extensive training together, to specialize in narcotic detection, human tracking and apprehension, to become a full patrol service K-9 unit. That, says the officer, benefits the Wilton Police, which as a smaller department needs a dog that can handle more, as opposed to larger departments like Norwalk or Westport that may have dogs that specialize in just one particular skill.
Capt. John Lynch says that the department typically has a need for missing persons tracking and that tends to be a K-9 officer’s priority. “We’re lucky that Baso is young,” he notes, and Patenaude agrees: “I’ve seen such confidence, his ability to work through problems. I give him something and he works it out, he impresses me. Once he hits a level of maturity, we’ll have a phenomenal dog here.”
Working Dog vs. Family Dog
Patenaude has another dog at home, a female German Shepherd. While Baso and she are “best friends” and play, they also are different. “He’s not a pet, he’s still a working dog. My focus is that he doesn’t come out and be best friends with everyone, he has a task at hand. His rules at home are a little different than a pet’s rules at home.”
Some of the training they’re working on now is learning how to detect narcotics. While they do that through ‘play,’ it’s still work.
“We’re doing something as simple as throwing a towel [with the scent]. Right now he’s learning that finding this odor and smelling this odor is fun. It becomes something he wants to do. Instead of me making him do something, I’m trying to implement a fun activity so that the dog wants to do it, wants to work and get a reward. When he does get that smell, he knows, ‘I’ve done something good’ and gets the reward and wants to do it over and over, do it better every time. It’s awesome to watch because it’s so natural, and watching him build on it.”
The commands that Patenaude uses are in Dutch German, something he began using during his combat tours in Afghanistan.
The duo will graduate in early October. Until then, Baso still accompanies Patenaude on patrol as part of his training and bonding. Even though he is Wilton’s K-9, people still should understand that Baso is a working dog and keep in mind a boundary.
“It’s kind of an unwritten rule that, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a police dog or someone walking their pet chihuahua. You shouldn’t approach them unless you’ve made contact and asked if it’s okay to pet the dog. Right now the answer will be no. He’s being socialized, I’m taking him to stores like Home Depot, I’m walking him at street fairs, I walked him around the Wilton Street fair. Once we’re done with training, and I continue his socialization, it’s my goal to have him hang out. Have him see students, and local community members. Will they be able to pet him? I want to say yes, but the thing he needs to do is the task at hand. If you come up and are all, [mimes petting the dog] you become more interesting. I need to be as interesting as possible and the main person. That’s why the perimeter with petting and loving, there has to be a line with working dogs,” Patenaude explains, adding, “We have to see where the training goes.”
Baso, along with the training, cost the department $13,000, which they’ve been trying to pay for with donations from the public. There’s also equipment associated with the K-9 program, including a new SUV and additional costs. “We’re always seeking help, but the public has been very generous,” says Capt. Lynch. In addition, they’ve received some support from the American Kennel Club (AKC) and local companies Blue Buffalo and Pet Pantry, which help with food. “The community has been awesome so far,” says Patenaude, adding that fundraising is an ongoing need.
Patenaude works the night shift, from 3:30-11 p.m.. He will frequently be called on to assist other communities, just as other K-9 teams may come to Wilton and assist Baso. “It’s the perfect shift for K-9,” says Lynch.