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  My Canine Partner: Rookie  
  June 23, 2016 Edition  
     A retired Boardman Police Department canine officer, J.R. Neapolitan, is honoring his former partner in an effort to raise funds to create an Ohio Police Canine Memorial in Amelia, Oh.
      The idea of a memorial is a concept created by Amelia canine police officer Craig Heintzelman.
      “This memorial will give something back to the dogs. They don’t ask to be put in harm’s way, but they do it because they love their handlers,” Heintzelman said.
      Neapolitan served as the Boardman Police Department’s fourth canine officer, following in the footsteps of Mike Hughes, Dean Lysowski and Bob Beam.
      He and his partner, K-9 Rookie, served Boardman Township for little more than three years.
      It was two days after Christmas, Dec. 27, 2002 that Rookie’s watch came to an end.
      Rookie, a dual purpose patrol dog, was trained in apprehension, tracking, searching, drug detection and handler protection.
      On a cold and blustery night, about 10:30 p.m., Rookie was out of the cruiser on a bathroom break at Glenwood Middle School. The cruiser was parked under a functioning overhead light, with its headlights on.
      But fate can be cruel.
      A teenage driver who had not scraped the ice off his windshield, failed to see the cruiser. The teen’s car just missed striking the cruiser, but struck and killed Rookie.
      “Nearly 14 years after he was taken from me, it still hurts. It hurts terribly. I thought Rookie and I still had a lot of good work to do, but it was not to be,” Neapolitan says, adding “By saying his name and telling his story, maybe I can give Rookie that immortality that he so deserves.”
      “I have been told that once in a lifetime, a dog may come into your life and change everything. Rookie was that dog,” Neapolitan says, recallng several arrests that were made after Rookie followed a scent.
      “I have been told that Rookie captured more hearts than bad guys. He was the community’s dog too, and I shared him every chance I got. We did lots of public demonstrations, and I found public speaking became easy, after all, I got to brag about my partner.
      “If a child waved at my cruiser as I rolled through a parking lot, or down a street, you can bet in no time flat I gave that child a ‘Rookie trading card’ in one hand, and the child was petting Rookie with the other hand,” Neapolitan recalls.
      His deep love for his dog is recalled with his favorite story about Rookie.
      One day the mother of a teenaged son with Down Syndrome called the police department and told a shift supervisor her son loved the police and wanted to be a policeman one day. The mom wondered if a policeman could stop by the family’s home and meet the child.
      “Phillip would love to meet a policeman,” the mother informed the sergeant.
      Officer Neapolitan and K-9 Rookie went to the boy’s home, and true to the mom’s words, Phillip was thrilled to meet a policeman. The boy was even more thrilled when he learned he was about to meet a police dog.
      “I gave Phillip very careful instructions on what to do, and went to get Rookie out of our cruiser, and the ‘careful instructions’ went right out the window,” Neapolitan recalls.
      Phillip, who was short and built like a tank, strode confidently over to Rookie, leaned down and wrapped the canine in a bear hug. Not even his handler would hug Rookie like that.
      “In a split second I pictured my career as a handler come crashing down. All I could think of was a special needs child mauled by a police dog.
      “But Rookie never even flinched. he just stood there with this German Shepherd smile, making a new friend. Rookie knew Phillip was special. He just knew,” Neapolitan recalls!
      It’s just not the arrests and chases that makes a police dog special.
      The Ohio Police Dog Memorial, the only one of its kind in the United States, will feature three granite walls with the names of police dogs and their duty station; as well as a bronze statute of a police dog. Estimated cost has been set at about $40,000. To date, about $12,000 has been raised.
      Anyone interested in donating can contact the ohiopolicek9memorial.com for several opportunities for giving; or contact Officer Heintzelman at the Amelia Police Department, 119 West Main St., Amelia, Oh., 45102; or the Ohio Police Dog Memorial offices at 7753 Cox Lane, West Chester, Oh., 45059.
     
      Pictured: FORMER BOARDMAN POLICEMAN J.R. Neapolitan is helping to raise funds for an Ohio Police Dog Memorial in Amelia, Oh. Neapolitan is pictured with his partner, Rookie, who was killed in a traffic accident at Glenwood Middle School on Dec. 27, 2002, after only three years on duty. “Rookie captured more hearts that bad guys,” Neapolitan says.
 
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