The meet-and-greets, which took place throughout the month of September, raised money for the Officer Rocco K-9 Memorial Fund.

By Noah Manalo

Photo: Pittsburgh Police Officer Vicky Butch, Wagsburgh Owner Joe Thornton, and Zane, the first comfort dog on the Pittsburgh Police K-9 Unit at the “Protect & Serve Fundraiser,” a weekly Pittsburgh Police K-9 Unit Meet and Greet that took place throughout September. Photo by Noah Manalo.

If you stopped by Wagsburgh on a Sunday during the month of September, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., you had a chance to meet a Pittsburgh Police Officer and member of the K-9 Division. 

The Northside Chronicle stopped by on Sunday, Sept. 15 and met Officer Vicky Butch and Zane, a golden retriever.

The pair were participating in the “Protect & Serve Fundraiser,” a weekly Pittsburgh Police K-9 Unit Meet and Greet. 

The fundraiser, hosted by Wagsburgh, was a partnership with the Pittsburgh City Police to show appreciation for the City Police Department’s service and to help build awareness and raise money for the Officer Rocco K-9 Memorial Fund. The fund was created to provide ongoing care, training and support for the City of Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s K-9 Division.

Rocco, an eight-year-old German shepherd, was stabbed in an incident in 2014. The dog’s handler, Officer Phil Lerza, was also stabbed. Rocco, who specialized in locating guns and detecting accelerants, joined Pittsburgh Police in 2008.

Joe Thornton, owner of Wagsburgh, was excited for the opportunity to meet with the Pittsburgh Police Chief and to host the fundraisers.

“We do a lot of giving back to rescues and shelters. This is a good way to give to the City’s Police Department and their service,” said Thornton.

Thornton estimates around 50 to 60 individuals have stopped by on Sundays so far during the events to meet the officers and dogs and to make purchases to support the fund.

The fundraiser also educates the public on what K-9 dogs do. In addition to being used in a typical patrol sense and in detecting drugs and paraphernalia, police dogs can be used for arson and accelerant detection, as in the case with Dodger, who, according to Officer Butch can detect up to 32 separate scents. K-9s can also be used in specific scent detection. Cappy, for example, cantrack missing and endangered people.

Zane is the city’s first comfort dog and will help first responders and victims of violent crimes. Officer Butch feels he’s been a tremendous help to the city’s police force.

“If you had asked me before the Tree of Life if there was a place for a dog like this, I would have said no. But now, we brought him in, and he’s doing wonders. He’s a good fit for the community, he’s a good fit for the police force and he’s making a difference,” she said.

Officer Butch is in her ninth year of service in the Police Department and 27th year of service to the city. Previously, she served in the parks and recreation department. She said the Police Department loves working with the community and meeting them in a different light.

“It’s hard whenever you’re meeting people only on bad circumstances all the time. For 99 percent of our job, we don’t get called out to say, ‘Hey, we just had a new baby. Come see our new baby!’ We get called out because something bad happened. So, we’re constantly seeing people at their worst and they’re seeing us at our worst because we’re dealing with it.” said Officer Butch. 

“I always say sit down with an officer when they’re not answering a call and talk to them and see that we’re people, we have feelings and get to know us.”

Thornton will combine individual donations collected during the events with a portion of store profits over the month of September into a lump-sum donation to the Officer Rocco K-9 Memorial Fund. He plans to post the total amount he received on the event’s Facebook page.