County sheriffs welcome canine

The newest staff member in the Blair County Sheriff’s Department has done two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. During that time, she found 700 roadside bombs and helped apprehend three suspected terrorists.

But don’t ask Lily to talk about her experiences. She is a four-footed Belgian Malinois that only seems interested in her next assignment.

“She likes to work,” said Sheriff’s Deputy R.J. Peo, who is undergoing training with Lily so the dog can become his partner and a part of his household.

The nearly 5-year-old canine will be the department’s first dog, and unlike Logan Township’s pair of drug-detection police dogs, Lily’s specialty is bomb detection. She also can detect black powder and smokeless powder used in ammunition.

That skill and her bomb-detection ability should make her a valuable asset in dealing with incidents like the one in May, Sheriff Mitch Cooper said, when concern developed over a briefcase unintentionally left behind at the 17th Street Sheetz.

Or, if local school leaders believe a student has brought a gun to school, Cooper said Peo and Lily can be called in for a search.

“If a gun has ever been fired, she can smell it,” Sheriff Mitch Cooper said.

Commissioners, who have been supportive of the Cooper’s pursuit, also recall the October 2010 bomb threat at the Courthouse which resulted in a late morning evacuation and a decision to call in a bomb-sniffing dog.

“There was a substantial loss of labor that day from shutting down the whole facility,” Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti said.

While prior commissioners have discouraged and at one time said no to a drug-detecting dog in the sheriff’s department, citing expense and liability, current commissioners allowed Cooper to pursue the bomb-sniffing dog without interference.

“My understanding is that it will be at no cost to the county,” Tomassetti said.

Cooper said that’s been the case so far.

Lily was secured at no cost from the U.S. Army Special Forces and an anonymous donor covered training costs. Cooper also asked, and Tyrone Borough leaders agreed, to donate a vehicle equipped to transport a police dog, a vehicle the borough no longer needed.

“It’s got more than 100,000 miles on it, but it’s in good enough condition to get Lily from Point A to Point B,” Cooper said.

To cover future expenses, the sheriff’s department is raising money and accepting donations in support of its canine unit. As of Friday, the department’s online sale of T-shirts with a dog silhouette has netted $3,000.

Peo, who has worked with Lily for almost three weeks, is also committed to Lily and her care. If for some reason Lily becomes ill or injured and can no longer work, Cooper said the dog would become Peo’s pet, something that would be just fine with the deputy.

“She’s an awesome dog,” Peo said. “I don’t think I could ever give her up.”