By jeanne starmack
NEW CASTLE, Pa.
They stretched for blocks in front of the old Ben Franklin School on Cunningham Avenue on Thursday morning — cruisers for nearly 50 police K-9 units.
Handlers and their dogs from a 99-mile radius around the city had come to pay tribute to Chico, the New Castle Police Department’s 6-year-old Dutch shepherd who died Saturday evening after being in the back of a hot cruiser.
There is an internal department investigation into how Chico, whom the department had for two years, came to die in the care of his own handler, Officer James Hoyland. Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua
Lamancusa also is conducting a criminal investigation.
In the school’s auditorium, Police Chief Tom Sansone did not say much about the circumstances that led to the dog’s death. It was a time to remember Chico and talk about his service to the community, which Sansone did along with a previous handler of Chico’s, Officer Terry Dolquist.
Sansone did confirm some facts later for the press.
Chico was in the cruiser for three hours and 45 minutes, he said.
Chico’s handler, whom he would not officially identify as Hoyland, was working an extra shift on a housing-project patrol from 4 to 8 p.m. At 8 p.m., he was supposed to start his regular shift.
He went to his housing-project patrol in a different vehicle, leaving Chico in their K-9 cruiser in the police station parking lot.
He left the car and its air conditioning running, Sansone said. But after two hours of idling, the air-conditioning system shut down. The car is equipped with a “hot box,” Sansone said. It sounds an alarm and lowers the windows if the car gets too hot. He said the hot box did not malfunction but would not say whether it was activated. The windows were up when the dog was found.
Sansone said that when Chico’s handler found him at 7:45 p.m., he “went wild.”
“He rushed to get water and immediately went to a veterinarian,” Sansone said. Chico died at the vet’s.
Sansone said the department’s policy is that dogs are not supposed to be left in cruisers for long periods of time without their handlers. “Procedures are the dog should stay home in his kennel,” Sansone said.
Hoyland, who was Chico’s handler since January, is on unpaid leave during the investigations.
He was not at the memorial service — he’d come by earlier, Sansone said.
Instead, it was Dolquist who remembered his time with Chico before he’d transferred from the K-9 unit to different duties in the department. He recalled their training sessions at Tri-State Canine Services in Trumbull County, Ohio, where the city bought Chico with $6,000 the community donated, and their first days on the job together.
Chico, who was the department’s fourth dog, would never win any beauty contests.
“My first reaction was, God, that’s an ugly dog,” Dolquist said. “He looked like a hyena” with one floppy ear and a look like he would “take my face off,” he added.
“Then, I learned he’d been in Iraq,” Dolquist said, explaining that the dog had been there with a private security company. About the same time, Dolquist also was serving in Iraq.
In training, Chico was stubborn. “He had a high drive,” Dolquist said. He would lunge out and nip in frustration as if to say, “‘Hey, I don’t know what you want me to do — pay attention,’” Dolquist said, adding he almost gave up on the dog.
Dec. 16, 2009, was Chico’s first day on the job. One of their first arrests, Dolquist said, was of a burglar who’d smashed into a vending machine in a barbershop.
“We tracked him. It was pitch black. Chico got a scent and took off,” Dolquist said. Then, the tight leash suddenly went limp, and Dolquist tripped over something. He turned on his light and saw Chico on top of the suspect. “He was looking at me with that one floppy ear saying, ‘Let’s do this,’” Dolquist said.
Dolquist read a poem called “Guardians of the Night,” which describes a police dog’s loyalty to its handler.
“I will protect you with my last breath when all others have left you,” he read. “Know that each day at your side is my reward.”
Dolquist will keep Chico’s cremated remains for now, and eventually, the police department will keep them at a new police station on North Street. The department will move there in August.
But before the remains would go to safekeeping, there was one thing left to do.
Dolquist carried them from the auditorium to the cruisers outside, and in a 15-minute procession through the city, Chico had his last patrol.