Photo courtesy of the Ithaca Police K-9 unit Facebook page

ITHACA, N.Y. – The Ithaca Police Department is welcoming a second K9 to the department and welcoming back Officer Jamie Buffone, who officially becomes the first female K9 handler at IPD after graduating Friday morning.

Buffone, who has been with IPD since 2005, will soon be hitting the road again with K9 Rex at her side.

She answered five questions for The Ithaca Voice about what it’s like to train with her nearly 70-pound German Shepherd partner and how it feels to become IPD’s first female K9 handler.

1) What sparked your interest in being a K9 handler at the Ithaca Police Department?

When I transferred to IPD,  one of the many reasons I chose to apply to Ithaca PD was because of their K9 program and the work they had done.

I am originally from Seneca Falls and transferred to IPD in 2005 from Seneca Falls PD. I always wanted to become a police officer since I was a little kid. I graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2001 and had done some ride alongs with a friend who worked for the local sheriff’s department my senior year of college and absolutely fell in love with what I saw my future could be in law enforcement.

I have wanted to become a K9 officer, again, since I was a little kid.  A very close family friend was a K9 handler for the Seneca county sheriff’s department, so I spent as much free time as I could at their house watching him with his dog.  Their house dog was trained the same as the K9 so I would take him for walks around town and practice obedience with him.  Being able to watch the bond between the him and his dog absolutely amazed and intrigued me. I did not know then the huge commitment that it was to be a K9 handler, like I do know, but knew it was something I had a passion for and that I wanted to do in the future.

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2) What can you tell us about K9 Rex and how is he different from K9 Bert?

Rex is from Hungary and his birthdate is 01/10/15 so he is 15 months old.  He weighs about 69lbs.   He was purchased at Shallow Creek Kennels which is the same place Bert came from. Two of the handlers from the Syracuse PD K9 unit actually picked him out for me.  They also help pick Bert for Pat. They went down to the kennels and ran a bunch of dogs through a series of tests before narrowing it down to Rex. The dogs are chosen with the handlers experience, size and personality in mind. When I got Rex, he had only been in the United States for a couple of days so he was still trying to figure out his surroundings.  I actually took a week off from work so I could spend the time establishing a solid bond with him.

Rex and Bert are both dual purpose dogs.  This means they are trained in patrol ( obedience, tracking, reasonable force) and then also a detection.  Rex will be trained in narcotics detection. Bert is trained in patrol and then explosive detection.

3) What is the training program like to become a K9 handler?

The training process is 5 days a week for the last 9 weeks in Syracuse.  It has been a lot of work but has been some of the most rewarding training that I have ever participated in. It is so incredibly rewarding to be able to see the dogs grow each day and each week.  They want to learn and work and it is great to not only be able to push them  and their ability but be able to push ourselves as handlers.  Being a new handler, I also have to learn all of this at the same time Rex is so that I can be a leader for him.

4) How will your day-to-day duties change when you and Rex get back to Ithaca?

My day-to-day activities won’t change other then I will have Rex with me on patrol.  I will still work a patrol beat and answer calls like I did before. Rex will be there to assist where he can.

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5) Is there anything else you want to say about joining the K9 unit?

The addition of Rex to the police department would definitely not have been possible with out all the hard work Pat and Bert have done. They have paved the way for the addition of another K9.  Also having the support of both Chiefs who not only see the importance of the unit but also believe in the work it’s accomplishing is very important for its continued success.   Rex and I can’t wait to join Pat and Bert with the work they have already been doing with helping bring the community and the police department closer together.  I think it’s so important to be able to help educate people on the K9 program and the dogs abilities and training.

I am also so honored in having been selected for this position and to be the first female K9 handler at IPD.  To be able to possibly be a role model is so humbling and I could not be more honored to be wearing an IPD uniform and having Rex by my side.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.