Police dog a 'critical' tool in Falmouth and beyond

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FALMOUTH — It’s been a busy summer so far for the Police Department K-9 unit, which is fine with handler Officer Alan Twombley because his dog, Greta, “loves going to work.”

Just last week, for instance, the two were called out twice to assist neighboring communities – once for a drug search and once for tracking duties.

Twombley, who is also the town’s harbormaster, said Greta is something of a mascot at Town Landing, where she also boards the harbor patrol boat and is sometimes used to assist the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

Greta is a 4-year-old German shorthaired pointer that Twombley originally got as a puppy to be the family pet.

But one day Twombley and Sgt. Kevin Conger decided to test her abilities and began playing with her in a field near the police station. They hid items and sent Greta to find them, which she did.

Lt. John Kilbride then saw them in action and suggested they train her. So the Police Department had her evaluated and, Twombley said, he was told his dog “has what it takes.”

Twombley said he and Greta train constantly and that in his 30 years of law enforcement this job is the hardest, but also the most fulfilling assignment he’s had.

“This is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my career,” he said. “I wish I’d done it sooner.”

Both Twombley and Kilbride said Greta is most often called out for drug searches and for tracking suspects who have taken off on foot. Twombley said not every local Police Department has a K-9 unit, which is why he and Greta get called out to assist so often.

This summer their help has been requested in communities from Cumberland to Gorham, and Twombley said Falmouth is happy to share resources with other departments, which in turn share their assets.

Kilbride said the Falmouth department has had a K-9 unit since 2000, with two other dogs and their handlers preceding Twombley and Greta. “With their keen skill set, they’re a critical tool in progressive policing,” he said.

The K-9s “work on scent that’s sometimes several hours old, (and) they can locate hiding suspects in buildings and in the woods. They are (also) essential for locating hidden narcotics in vehicles and buildings,” Kilbride said.

To become certified, a dog must go through 500 hours of training, and Kilbride said the animals can be expensive. Starting costs are approximately $15,000, which is broken down between the cost of acquiring a suitable dog and the necessary equipment.

So far, Kilbride said, Falmouth has been fortunate. All three of its K-9s have been free to the town. The first dog was purchased with a grant, the second came from the U.S Department of Defense, and Twombley donated Greta to the department.

Kilbride said the annual costs for a K-9 are about $1,000, which includes food and medical care.

Falmouth is lucky to have “a very friendly police dog, but (you should) always ask the handler before you approach the dog,” he added.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Falmouth Police Officer Alan Twombley and his K-9, Greta, have been in high demand this summer from neighboring communities requesting their assistance.

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