Westport Police Department’s K9 Unit officers, with their dogs, at Monday’s press conference publicizing their fundraising campaign, include from left: Cpl. Kevin Smith with Onyx, Cpl. James Loomer with Ambo and Cpl. David Scinto with Atlas. / Photos by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Three police officers put their best paws forward as they were introduced at a Monday press conference publicizing their mission to help protect and serve the community.

The Police Department recently launched a fundraising campaign to support its K9 Unit, consisting of four highly trained canine officers paired with human counterparts to support law enforcement many ways — in explosive detection, tracking, drug sniffing and more.

Monday’s event highlighted fundraising efforts — via a gofundme page — to support the unit, which is not paid for with town funds. By early Tuesday, the campaign had raised more than $37,000 toward the $58,000 goal after only a week.

Atlas, a German Shepherd who is the oldest dog in the Westport Police K9 Unit, will retire at the end of the year when he turns 10 years old.

The $58,000 goal will be used to acquire a new dog to replace “Atlas,” the unit’s oldest dog scheduled to retire later this year, and to outfit two police vehicles with equipment for the K9 Unit.

“It’s going well and we’re trying to keep it going, and get to the top,” said police Lt. Eric Woods, the department’s administrative officer, as he introduced three of the K9s and their police officer handlers.

The Westport Police Department has “a very robust” K9 program with four dogs, which would be costly for the town budget to support, Woods said. 

Police officials are proud of the K9 Unit and the work it does both in Westport and assisting police in area communities, so they are looking for help funding the unit with private donations rather than draw on municipal resources. “Some of the other towns’ departments just don’t have the resources to have dogs,” Woods said.

The new dog will take the place of Atlas, a German Shepherd, who will retire from active duty at the end of the year when he turns 10 years old.

“He’s the old one of the group,” his handler, Cpl. David Scinto, said of Atlas, who had been with the local K9 Unit since he was 8 months old. K9s usually have a 7- to 10-year career span before they are retired.

When K9s retire, “They stay home full time, with us and our families,” and just like humans, it sometimes takes time for them to relax and adjust to retirement, Scinto said.

The division will hold a retirement ceremony at the end of 2024 for Atlas, who has won a state award for apprehending an armed robbery suspect in Bridgeport, Cpl. James Loomer added.

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.