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LEWISTON – The Lewiston Police Department said goodbye to a talented and much loved fellow officer – a K-9 officer named Radar – who died of splenic cancer in May. But despite the sadness, there has been some excitement of late as the department welcomes his replacement.

The community has been invited to share in the welcome and participate in naming the new member of the force. Chief Christopher Salada said the department already has received hundreds of names and plans to accept suggestions until the end of this month.

Salada said that Radar was diagnosed in May at Cornell University and that they were told by the veterinarian that there wasn’t much that could be done for him. He said the department created a memorial area at the Lewiston dog park for Radar and any future K-9 that Lewiston loses.

A few weeks after Radar died, the department began looking for a new dog and with about $5,000 in funding from donations obtained by the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, the department was able to purchase a new German shepherd. The dog is currently named Gray while he awaits his new name.

Radar was the first K-9 to join the Lewiston department, and his handler, Officer Scott Stafford, will work with and train the new dog.

“We’re kind of starting from scratch with him,” Salada said of the new K-9. “The nice part about training a dog this time is that when we were training Radar, we were also training Scott, because he was a new K-9 handler. With this one, the dog is the only thing we will have to bring up to speed.”

Stafford said he has been working with the new dog for about a month and he is progressing well.

“I do have a ton more experience, but training dogs can be a humbling experience. At the end of the day they are dogs, some progress a lot quicker and some need remedial training.”

He said it was a little easier and less stressful since he knew what to expect but said Radar was known for his tracking, which was a skill he and his partner spent a lot of time working on in order to gain more experience. Stafford calls training “perishable” something that must be kept up regularly to become proficient.

“It’s definitely bittersweet. You can never replace (Radar,) but you also have a new dog which fills the void and keeps you occupied,” said Stafford.

He said his new K-9 partner has a very nice temperament and has a lot of the same characteristics and quality that Radar had, especially toward children

Gray was born in Kentucky but has the Slovakian-German lineage in his bloodlines that works well for military and police dogs, Stafford said.

Gray is still green, he said, noting that Gray had some basic work in tracking and apprehension of suspects but still needs a lot of training and has had no obedience training.

Stafford said losing Radar was tough.

“He was diagnosed on May 5, and by May 28, he had to be euthanized,” he said. “(Radar) was larger than life in Lewiston because he was the first police dog, and I’m big on public relations with the kids and demonstrations with civic groups.”

He said Radar was a great tool for the Police Department, not only for catching criminals, but also to bridge that gap between the police and the community.

“I had amazing support when he passed away, with condolences and emails. It might sound corny, but I read every one of them,” he said. “It was nice to know that many people supported Radar.”

Radar was 7 years old when he died.

“Unfortunately, he was in the prime when we lost him,” said Salada. “He was very successful, and we ended up relying on him quite a bit. We felt like he was part of the department.”

As a patrol dog, Radar was used for tracking and for drug recognition. He also could be ordered to secure a person and to protect his handler, he said.

Salada said the K-9 unit is a shared service and assists other agencies as needed.

Names for the new K-9 may be submitted through Friday on the Lewiston Police Department Facebook page or in person at department headquarters on Creek Road or at the Lewiston and Sanborn libraries.

Stafford said of the naming contest, “We want to make sure everybody feels like they are part of this process.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com