Officer, dog’s dedication key in the revival of Mt. Laurel Police K9 program

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Two years ago, Cpl. Chris O’Prandy of the Mt. Laurel Police Department never imagined he’d be working alongside a dog. At the time, he and his family didn’t even own a dog.

“If you asked me if I had any interest in doing something like this, I’d say no,” O’Prandy said.

Now, O’Prandy not only loves dogs, he is playing a key role in bringing the K9 program back to the Mt. Laurel Police Department.

O’Prandy and Gunner, an 8-month-old German shepherd, are the faces behind the soon-to-be-revived program. O’Prandy adopted Gunner late in 2014 and donated him to the police department for use as a K9 officer after pitching the idea for a new K9 program to Chief of Police Dennis Cribben. Right now, Gunner is training to become a dual-purpose patrol and narcotics K9, while O’Prandy is working to receive his K9 handler certification.

The Mt. Laurel Police Department is funding the K9 program entirely through a special fund residents, businesses and other in the community can donate toward. Because of budget constraints, O’Prandy and Gunner are not attending a K9 police academy. Instead, they are training with Perry Parks, a retired police officer and certified police K9 instructor working for Absolute Control Dog Training in Southampton. Parks teaches K9 candidates the same skills they would learn at an academy.

“He’s able to work around officers’ schedules who, for budgetary reasons, are unable to get to the K9 academy,” O’Prandy said.

Gunner is in the process of completing a 16-week patrol course and will begin a 10-week narcotics course after he is certified as a patrol K9.

“He going to do all of the patrol work, searching for missing people, suspects, searching for articles, building searches,” O’Prandy said. “What will make him dual-purpose is the narcotics.”

Gunner’s training goes beyond the K9 training. O’Prandy also takes Gunner to obedience training with Harry Ramos at South Jersey K9 Solutions in Hammonton. O’Prandy said the obedience training lays the foundation for the work done with Parks.

“Obedience is the dog responding to your terms,” he said. “For example, if I would send my dog out for apprehension, I would have to be able to recall them. So a lot of that groundwork starts from the obedience.”

O’Prandy said there are some similarities in Gunner’s training with civilian dogs. Ramos is not a police officer and can’t perform K9 training with Gunner, but O’Prandy goes to him for obedience and bite development.

O’Prandy hasn’t been alone in trying to get the K9 program off the ground. He has received support and financial help as he continues training with Gunner.

“I’ve gotten a lot of support from the chief that I’m able to use some of my work time to train,” he said. “Mt. Laurel Animal Hospital is providing services. Concord Pet Food is providing services. So I don’t have a 100 percent burden on me as far as some of the financial costs.”

Despite all of the challenges, O’Prandy said he’s enjoying going through the training process and can’t wait until the fall when Gunner will be ready to patrol Mt. Laurel.

“It’s fun,” he said. “I love it. I would train seven days a week if I could.”

Residents can get a sneak peek at Gunner in action at the Mt. Laurel Fall Festival on Sept. 19. Gunner is on track to be sworn in at a Mt. Laurel council meeting earlier that month. Once sworn in, he will be the first K9 to patrol in Mt. Laurel since 2001.

Residents wishing to donate to the Police K9 Fund can mail a check to Police K9 Fund, 100 Mt. Laurel Road, Mount Laurel, NJ 08054. Donations can also be made in-person at the Mt. Laurel Municipal Building. Donations will not only help the police department pay for Gunner’s expenses, but it could help expand the K9 program in the future.

“The goal is to have one dog on the street for each platoon, and we have four platoons,” O’Prandy said. “I don’t know how many years that is away, but that is the goal.”