A bittersweet ceremony Thursday afternoon bid farewell to K-9 officer Baro, and welcomed Saint Michael, a nearly all black German shepherd, to the Newtown Police Department.
Chief Michael Kehoe started the afternoon ceremony at Newtown Municipal Center by asking for a moment of silence to remember Baro, who retired earlier this year then died of cancer in late June.
After a pause, Officer Matt Hayes approached the microphone.
“Baro was not a pet, he was a police officer; losing Baro was losing one of us,” said Officer Hayes. Baro “brought smiles to many faces and was a source of comfort.”
He then indicated that the day marked “the dawn of a new era,” moments before the public address system crackled with the last roll call for Baro.
It was a call he couldn’t answer: “Headquarters to K-9 Baro, headquarters to K-9 Baro, headquarters to K-9 Baro… We’ll all miss you.”
Police Officer & K-9 Handler Felicia Figol addressed a crowd that included town officials, residents, police department members, AKC club members and a host of K-9 units and handlers from surrounding towns. She was “so pleased” to serve with the new dog, she said, then read a poem a friend had written about Baro, saying he had been her partner “with four dirty paws.” The poem said, “We’ll again ride together one day, I love you so much, you’re in heaven protecting 20 angels …”
Officer Hayes said, “I was Baro’s chew toy.” His friend Christopher Sweetwood, a Trap Falls Kennel Club affiliate, had begun working with Officer Hayes in 2012 (prior to 12/14) to raise funds for a K-9 when he learned that Baro would soon be retiring. Following Baro’s death, Mr Sweetwood’s AKC club and a host of other clubs and supporters raised more than $14,000, which purchased a trained dog, ready to start service.
The $14,250 in donations and grants came from the American Kennel Club (AKC) community of nonprofit affiliates AKC Reunite (formerly AKC Companion Animal Recovery, or CAR) and the AKC Humane Fund, AKC member clubs, Trap Falls Kennel Club, Newtown Kennel Club, and Farmington Kennel Club, as well as delegates and local residents.
According to a recent release, “After the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, which stretched Newtown’s resources, and the unexpected early retirement and passing of Baro in June, Newtown was faced with not having a working police dog among its ranks. Baro, who directly responded to Sandy Hook, was missed greatly by law enforcement and the community.
“I felt that there had to be a way to assist our local first responders,” Mr Sweetwood said.
During the ceremony, AKC Reunite CEO Tom Sharp, AKC Director of Communications Lisa Peterson, and Mr Sweetwood stood together before the crowd.
“Saint Michael will play an important role in the Newtown community,” said Mr Sharp.
It was then time to reveal Saint Michael.
Officer Figol walked him before the crowd. He is from Hungary, responds to German commands, and arrived in Newtown Wednesday night, she said. Sleek and black with tan paws, Saint Michael stood rigid, ears perked.
Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia Halstead faced Officer Figol and Saint Michael for a swearing in. Did he swear to serve and protect the community?
“I do,” Officer Figol quickly answered for him.
Officer Figol had named the dog, saying Saint Michael is the protector of police officers.