By W.T. Eckert
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
CANTON, N.Y. — Animals that help enforce the law will have greater protection under it.
Killing a police animal would be a felony offense after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation Wednesday to increase the punishment against those who kill the four-legged law enforcement officers.
Currently, anyone found guilty of killing a police dog or horse is charged with a class A misdemeanor. With the signing of Law S1079A, which takes effect on Nov. 1, the killing of a police animal while it is on duty will be a class E felony.
"Police animals go where others will not in order to keep law enforcement officials and all New Yorkers safe from harm, and it's a tragedy when one is killed," Gov. Cuomo said in a press release. "This new law will hold the guilty parties accountable and offer better protections for these highly trained animals who are important members of our law enforcement community."
One of those important members of the law enforcement community in St. Lawrence County is sheriff's Deputy Hershey -- a 6-year-old chocolate Labrador.
Hershey is both a partner and a friend to Deputy Andrew J. Ashley.
Deputy Ashley will have been with the sheriff's office for 13 years in September, but he said he has always had an interest in working as a K-9 officer.
He got that chance five years ago, when Hershey joined the force.
As the lone K-9 officer in the sheriff's department, Deputy Ashley has been working with Hershey since the dog's first day.
"We ride around with each other for 12 hours a shift," Deputy Ashley said. "He is a partner, just like any human would be."
But he is more than a partner, he is a tool, Deputy Ashley said.
"K-9s have to have a lot of play and prey, be highly motivated to both work and please their handler," he said.
By Deputy Ashley's side, Hershey was filled with energy, pacing around the officer's legs and begging to get on the move.
The narcotics-detection, tracking and article-searching certified police dog is used primarily for his nose; however, the K-9 team has been on a number of high-profile cases, from armed robberies to suspects with knives, leaving plenty of opportunity for Hershey to get seriously injured in the line of duty, Deputy Ashley said.
During those calls, Hershey wears the Kevlar vest he received in February as a gift from the SUNY Canton Criminal Justice Student Association.
But the risk of death on high-profile cases is still there, and in the case of Hershey, Deputy Ashley said, he would lose more than a partner -- he would lose a friend.
"We work our 12-hour shift, and he comes home with me," Deputy Ashley said. "When he retires, he becomes my pet."
The governor also signed into law a bill that will allow police departments to waive the requirement that a police dog be confined for 10 days after biting a person in the course of official duties. The law will allow law enforcement agencies to return the dog to duty after receiving a waiver from the health department.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 Watertown Daily Times