Penn State police announced its newest member of the department Wednesday. This one just happens to walk on four legs and is covered in fur.
Roni — pronounced like pepperoni — is a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd mix and is handled by Officer Phil Peng. The two completed the 12-week Pennsylvania State Police Explosive Detection Canine Handler Course in Hershey last month.
Peng and Roni are certified in explosive detection, which includes evidence recovery for firearms and shell casings.
“I am quite honored and ecstatic to be the next K-9 handler at Penn State. After an extensive training, Roni and I look forward to supporting public safety in our community,” Peng said.
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The department bought Roni from Shallow Creek Kennels, though he is originally from Budapest, Hungary.
“Shallow Creek, they are a wide, I guess, contractor or vendor and they travel the world and find ... the perfect K-9,” Peng said.
When Roni is “off-duty,” he returns home with Peng to commingle with Peng’s German Shorthaired Pointer. That arrangement, by the way, has gone well.
“He’s obviously a working dog, so he’s not a normal pet,” Peng said. “I can’t go home and have him out 24/7, have him on the couch. He’s restricted to work life, but at the same time, he is a dog so he has to go out and do dog things.”
Roni joins fellow K-9s Wail and Rudie — handled by Officers Josh Quimby and Dustin Miller, respectively — to patrol and provide security services at university infrastructure throughout the state. The two have already assisted state police on multiple bomb threats and conducted security searches at Penn State.
The unit also responds to more than 30 emergency calls per year, ranging from bomb threats at schools and businesses to providing security at large venues like Beaver Stadium.
“The K-9 unit contributes to public safety efforts at University Park and Penn State’s campuses throughout Pennsylvania. Our K-9 unit also routinely assists other law enforcement agencies as needed in emergency situations,” Lt. Matt White said. “Utilizing police dogs in the most efficient and effective way to search large areas for explosives and threats because of their natural physical abilities combined with their natural instincts and behaviors.”
The multicultural unit — Rudie and Wail follow Dutch commands, while Roni follows English commands — was established in the 1990s and has grown to address a steady increase in calls for service.
White said police dogs, in general, can work about 8-10 years before they retire and can work for about 45 minutes to an hour on cooler days.
Once they’ve completed their service, White said the dog’s handler is given the choice to adopt their dog. An officer has never turned down the opportunity, but if they were, the rest of the department is then given the same chance.
“I had two years on the job so being able to participate in the K-9 unit or even apply is quite astonishing,” Peng said. “The opportunity arose and I took it and I got Roni.”