Officer-canine teams graduate from explosive detection program

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A new class of K-9 cops got their diplomas Wednesday.

But these new, elite police dogs have not only a shared future helping catch bad guys and stop terrorists, but a shared history, honoring police officers and soldiers who tragically lost their lives.

13 teams of police officers and canines graduated from the MTA Police Department's explosive detection program during ceremonies in Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal.

The canine teams are an increasing line of defense in police work. 11 teams went to the MTA Police Department. One team went to the United States Park Police and one to the Peekskill Police Department.

"To protect our customers, our network. To protect our city, to protect our state from crime and from terrorism," said Joseph Lhota, MTA Chairman.

Having completed an intense 12-week explosive training program, each dog is given their own shield. They are each uniquely named for a fallen police officer or soldier.

Officer Alison Schmitt graduated with Mac, named for NYPD Detective Steven McDonald. His wife Patti and son Conor, also an NYPD officer, attended the proud moment.

"She actually called me and said she wanted to name the dog after Steven and I was thrilled and very honored," said Patti McDonald.

Alison, who was chosen to speak for the graduating class told the audience, "We are honored to continue their legacy and promise to never stop sharing their stories of courage, sacrifice and service."

Another of the 13 teams is Officer Keith McDermott of the U.S. Park Police and his canine Hammer, who honors Sergeant Steven Connell. "We are truly honored because his memory will be alive in such an amazing way to be protecting the Statue of Liberty," said Brandi Adamchik, Connell's sister. She attended the ceremony with Connell's sons Tyler and Chase.

"Hammer was a nickname that Sergeant Connell used with many of us over the years. So it had a special meaning for us," said Captain Peter Culver, the District Commander.

Zolo was named for NYPD Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo. He is handled by MTA officer Patrick Schondebare.

"I'm honored that officer Schondebare is willing to take on the canines to protect the city of New York and I'm thrilled that he's named after my husband," said Lisa Tuozzolo.

Officer Schondebare said, "I want to thank the Tuozzolo family to allow me to name my partner in memory of her husband and their father. We will continue his legacy." And to continue a proud tradition as they begin their new patrols.

The canines and officers who entered into active duty with the MTA PD are:
Canine KD, named in honor of FDNY Lieutenant Kevin Donnelly, killed responding to the World Trade Center site on 9/11. KD's partner is MTA PD Sergeant James Chirillo.
Canine Deuces, named in honor of Poughkeepsie Police Department Detective John Falcone, shot and killed in 2011 when he attempted to subdue a murder suspect. Deuces' partner is MTA PD Sergeant Edward O'Flaherty
Canine Lemm, named in honor of NYPD Detective and Air National Guard Staff Sergeant Joseph Lemm, killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2015. Lemm's partner is MTAP PD Officer Matthew Fontana
Canine Shaunee, named in honor of United States Coast Guard 3rd Class Maritime Enforcement Specialist Shaun Lin, who drowned in a training exercise in Drowning, Virginia in 2010. Shaunee's partner is MTA PD Officer Daniel Gambrell
Canine Willie, named in honor of NYPD Officer William Rivera, who died in 2004 when he fell from a Brooklyn rooftop in pursuit of a suspect. Willie's partner is MTA PD Officer Giselle Gil
Canine Joey, named in honor of U.S. Army First Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert, killed by an IED in Afghanistan in 2010. Joey's partner is MTA PD Officer Christopher Matias.
Canine Pags, named in honor of MTA PD Lieutenant John Pagnoni, one of the first trainers/supervisors of the canine unit, and who passed away from natural causes in November 2016. Pags' partner is MTA PD Officer Brian McCormack
Canine Mike, named in honor of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Michael H. Ollis, killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2013. Mike's partner is MTA PD Officer, Frank Musto.
Canine Mac, named in honor of NYPD Detective Steven D. McDonald, shot and paralyzed by gunfire in 1986 and who passed away in 2017. Mac's partner is MTA PD Officer Alison Schmitt
Canine Zolo, named in honor of NYPD Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo, killed by gunfire in the Bronx in 2016. Zolo's partner is MTA PD Officer Patrick Schondebare
Canine Hoss, named in honor of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Anthony L. Mangano, killed by an IED in Afghanistan in 2008. Hoss' partner is MTA PD Officer Charlie Spahr

United States Park Police

Canine Hammer, named in honor of United States Park Police Sergeant Steven Connell, who passed away in 2017 following a medical emergency. Hammer's partner is United States Park Police Officer Keith McDermott

Peekskill Police Department

Canine Charlie, named in honor of Peekskill Police Department Detective Charles Wassil, who died from World Trade Center related illnesses in 2013. Charlie's partner is Peekskill
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