When Mark Martinelli arrives at his Lancaster home after a long day of work at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, his black Labrador retriever, Rogan, isn’t there waiting for him.
That’s because Rogan’s had a long day of work right along side him – as Martinelli’s partner.
Rogan has been working for seven years as a K-9 bomb-sniffing dog with Martinelli, who is a K-9 handler for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Transit Police. On Tuesday, Rogan and his K-9 counterparts across Erie County were honored with a monument that was unveiled at Black Rock Canal Park.
The monument stands outside the new “Bark Park” dog park which opened in May. Both were funded by $1.1 million in state and county money as part of a project to turn what was once just a tract of blacktop between Hertel Avenue and Ontario Street into a park with green space and waterfront access.
Erie County sheriff’s deputies, Buffalo police and NFTA police were on hand with their dogs for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The monument, made of volcanic rock more than 7 million years old, pays tribute to police dogs past and present and the crime-fighting work they’ve done.
A description of the work police dogs do is inscribed on the monument, surrounded by the words “Duty,” “Honor” and “Service.” Below that is a list of former police dogs with names including Lars, Bosco and Kindle.
Martinelli said Rogan – who is named after Matthew Rogan, a New York City firefighter who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – was trained in San Antonio as part of the Transportation Security Administration’s Puppy Program.
Rogan still spends one day a week training to detect explosives in bags at the airport, though he has yet to find a bomb. Just like any dog at home, Rogan tries to please his owner through his work.
“Everything is to please me and play,” Martinelli said of Rogan’s mindset at work. “He thinks it’s a game, but he certainly plays hard to get that reward. He’s one of the best in this business.”
Rogan and the other dogs were generally on good behavior, but some of them were sizing each other up and barking at each other as they posed for a picture in front of the monument.
Stark, a German shepherd and a four-year veteran of the Buffalo Police Department, was on hand with Officer Jim Howe, his handler. Howe said Stark has been helpful in detecting narcotics and intimidating criminals.
Once, officers responded to the abandoned Episcopal Church Home on Busti Avenue for a report of thieves cutting out the copper plumbing in the basement. Stark sniffed the burglars out from behind a cellar door and kept them at bay until police took them into custody, Howe said.
“He started barking at the door a little bit, which indicates there’s somebody in there,” Howe said of Stark.
Before Capt. Sean Simet of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office removed the tarp covering the monument, he offered a few words and stories about the dogs he’s worked with over the years.
“The dogs themselves work harder than anyone I know. ... You’re talking about a partner who loves to go to work every day, is a great listener, never complains,” Simet said as a small crowd laughed at the “great listener” remark.
Numerous local politicians were in attendance, including State Sen. Mark Grisanti, who spoke about a new law recently signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that will make it a Class D felony to kill a police dog or horse. The bill was introduced by State Sen. George Maziarz of Newfane.
Near the monument is a “Bark Park,” where area residents can bring their dogs to play. It is about two-thirds of an acre in size, Erie County officials said.
“This is one of many features of this wonderful park, but we anticipate the dog park being one of the most popular features,” said Maria Whyte, commissioner of the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning.
After the ceremony, it was back to work for Martinelli, and Rogan was with him, as always.
“He’s the best partner I’ve ever had,” Martinelli said.