Last respects for police dog
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
BOARDMAN -- No fallen police officer could ask for a better send-off than the one given Rookie, a dog with a badge and a heart big enough to capture the love of just about every law-abiding person who knew him.
Dozens of area residents and law enforcement officers gathered Saturday at the Boardman Township building to pay their last respects to the German shepherd.
The veteran Boardman Township police dog was killed accidentally last month when he crossed paths with a car while on duty.
A nearly 100-cruiser procession representing law enforcement agencies from throughout northeast Ohio delivered Rookie's ashes, contained in a white urn, to the township building.
Inside, the urn was placed on a podium before the nearly 200 people gathered in honor of Rookie. Among the participants was Rookie's handler and partner, officer Jack Neapolitan. The two had been together since March 1999.
Tears were shed as Rookie, born in December 1997, was honored with poems, a final salute from officers and the playing of "taps."
Several verses were offered by 9-year-old Billy Martin of Niles, who knew Rookie and had started a program to raise money to buy protective vests for police dogs.
"Rookie was my favorite K-9 officer," Billy said.
Neapolitan said his four-legged partner captured more hearts than bad guys.
"He was very much an ambassador for the police department," Neapolitan said after the ceremony.
He recalled how his dog loved being petted and meeting people.
Rookie had a good career as a crimefighter. But Neapolitan said he probably will remember more his partner's gentle way with children and the love he evoked in the many youngsters he met while visiting area schools.
Neapolitan pointed to a collection of photos, articles and other memorabilia he had placed on a board for those attending the ceremony to view.
Several of the photographs were of Rookie with excited children.
"The pictures with the little kids is what I'm most proud of," Neapolitan said.
"It's impressive," Heather Englert, a recently hired Boardman police officer said of the turnout for Rookie.
"He's a fellow officer," said Mahoning County deputy sheriff Bahia Algahmee.
Retired Boardman policeman Tim Baird of North Lima also attended the ceremony.
"It's just like having a human partner," Baird said of a K-9 officer's bond with his dog.
"It might even be closer because they work off body language," Baird added.
Boardman Police Chief Jeffrey Patterson said he was pleased with the turnout for his fallen officer, whose loss leaves the department with two police dogs.
For so many to come out "on a cold morning shows people value what K-9s do for the community," Patterson said.