BRUNSWICK — Police Officer Joe Ceccacci and his partner, Koda, are training to be the department’s new K-9 team.
Ceccacci and the 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, imported from Holland, are undergoing six weeks of training in drug detection, scent tracking and apprehension, agility, obedience and aggression control in Denver, Ind., at Vohne Liche Kennels, where Koda was raised.
Ceccacci said he’s also trained in canine CPR and first aid.
“It’s going awesome,” Ceccacci, the police department’s drug recognition expert, said in a telephone interview. “Koda is doing amazing. He’s really spectacular at what he does.”
The team left the afternoon of Nov. 5 and started training the morning of Nov. 6. They are scheduled to complete training Dec. 22 and head home for the holidays.
“It’s a spectacular thing to watch being a first-time K-9 handler,” Ceccacci said. “The more I see him work and see how K-9s do what they do … I’m in awe of him, and it’s super exciting for me to have the opportunity to work with him and for us to become a team.”
The team will join Brunswick Officer Mark Luciano and his partner, Nico, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois.
Together, the teams will be able to detect narcotics and other drugs, apprehend fleeing criminals, track lost or fleeing individuals, search buildings or articles and perform crowd control.
The Ceccacci-Koda team starts its day at 5 a.m. with breakfast. Ceccacci then checks Koda’s paws and ears to make sure he had no injuries from the previous day and grooms him.
Their training, which involve day and night hours, are eight to 10 hours daily, but Ceccacci said their morning routine makes their days longer.
“We get them used to working all hours of the day — in the daylight, nighttime, pouring rain or in the snow — that’s what we as officers work in,” Ceccacci said.
Ceccacci said trainers at the kennels do pretraining with the dogs for patrol work and train them with drugs they will be detecting in the field, including cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.
“There’s a bit of a learning curve because he’s ahead of me,” Ceccacci said. “He knows what he needs to do and I need to learn to pick up on the cues for detection work. It’s definitely challenging for both of us.”
For scent training, Ceccacci said he sets up a trail and extends it every day/night by incorporating turns and curves.
“They’re tracking multiple things,” Ceccacci said. “They’re looking for ‘ground disturbance.’ It’s like a scratch and sniff — if you rough up the area the aroma becomes very apparent.”
Ceccacci said his bond with Koda recently showed during a “come to daddy” drill where Koda had to find Ceccacci.
“Koda was in the car and I used the automated system to pop the door open, and he’s being trained to find me and come to my side,” Ceccacci said. “As soon as he hears my voice, he knows where he goes. We’ve established that relationship at that point.”
Sun came out
On Oct. 30, Ceccacci went to Vohne Liche Kennels to select his canine partner.
“I had my heart set on a Dutch shepherd,” he said. “But this dog is something special.”
“I know it sounds clich￩, but when we went out to see him on Oct. 30, it was a dreary, gloomy day from Ohio to Indiana and when Koda came off the truck, I’m not kidding you, the sun came out and hit his coat and lit him like a fireball,” he continued. “He is a beautiful dog.”
To name the dog, Ceccacci received help from third-graders at Kidder Elementary School.
“Sgt. Jon Page said he would like to have students involved with naming (the dog),” Ceccacci said. “I told him I only have one stipulation.
“I called my niece and said, ‘Uncle Joe is getting a dog. When you go to school, ask your class for names for my police dog.’ She called the
next day and said, ‘Uncle
Joe, we came up with the names Pizza and Sausage for the dog. …’
“That’s not going to work,” he remembered with a laugh.
So Ceccacci said he provided students with two names, their origin and meaning — Koda and Kai. The Native American name Koda means friend or ally, and Kai, of Burmese origin, means strong or unbreakable.
“Students had an essay and drawing contest,” Ceccacci said. “They had to color in a picture of a police dog and write a paragraph about how dogs help police officers.”
An “overwhelmingly majority” voted for Koda.
Ceccacci went back to the school to announce the winning name.
“The department purchased a special collar and the two names with a Velcro back and we stood up in front of the class and showed them the two names,” Ceccacci said. “When we put the Koda name on the collar in front of the kids, they got super excited.”
Ceccacci said he and Koda are committed to following the third-grade class at Kidder.
“Koda and I will go back to Kidder after we get back from training and do a demonstration for the kids and show them what Koda can do,” Ceccacci said. “We’ll also visit that class every year, and we’ll be at their graduation ceremony when they go off to middle school.”
Contact reporter Halee Heironimus at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.