By Amy McConnell Schaarsmith and Liz Navratil
PITTSBURGH — However priceless a police K-9 like Rocco becomes to his handler, his handler's family and his unit, acquiring and training him comes at great cost.
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police spends between $6,500 and $8,000 to purchase an untrained dog with Rocco's raw talent for police work, according to a spokesperson. Sharpening that talent into real, proven skills can costs tens of thousands of dollars and months of training, creating an additional burden for an already grieving police unit when a canine officer dies.
Pittsburgh is still mourning the loss of Rocco, an 8-year-old German shepherd originally from the Czech Republic who will be honored with a service at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland on Friday. But while no one can replace Rocco, who died Thursday evening from blood loss and pneumonia resulting from a stab wound from a suspect, the department might soon have help with the expense of finding and training another K-9 officer.
The Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, begun by the Steelers quarterback in 2006 to acquire and train police dogs, plans to begin announcing grants now that the Super Bowl is over, said foundation relationship manager Jessica Duffaut.
"I do believe we'll be making a separate announcement regarding Rocco's department and what we might be able to do for them," Ms. Duffaut said.
Ms. Duffaut did not discuss what, if any, dollar amount might be offered. Since 2006, the foundation has made grants in excess of $1 million.
For now, she said, Pittsburgh residents need a chance to grieve for Rocco.
Pittsburgh police have not yet discussed replacing Rocco, according to spokeswoman Diane Richard. The bureau's dogs are not covered by life or health insurance, she said.
And while the dog itself is expensive, the training is even more of an investment, with a four-week basic training course for apprehending a suspect costing more than $13,000 at one well-known training center that supplies police dogs to many Pennsylvania departments.
At that kennel, Castle's K9 outside Harrisburg, a basic four-week narcotics detection course costs about $11,000 while a six-week explosives detection course costs more than $16,000, according to the center's website.
Rocco's Friday morning service originally was going to be closed, but Officer Phil Lerza, who was Rocco's handler, and his family asked that it be opened to the public due to an outpouring of support for the fallen police dog and the police bureau.
Copyright 2014 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
McClatchy-Tribune News Service