CLINTON - Most rookie police officers take a while to make their presence felt with their fellow cops. That's not the case with Ace, an 18 month-old German shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix, who in his first few months on the job has, according to his partner, Officer Greg Matakeitis, "become a key member of our department."
Recently, Ace, in a period of a couple days, helped track a man lost overnight in the woods, helped find another man who was reportedly on drugs and considered suicidal, and discovered a huge cache of drugs in a home.
Matakeitis, who not only works each and every police shift with Ace but is also the dog's owner, said after working with his "partner in crime" since mid-May, "I can't picture being without him."
Matakeitis has been a cop for six years, the last four with the Clinton Police Department. He tested for the position to be Ace's handler and he and the dog have been inseparable ever since.
The Clinton Police Department had been without a K9 unit for a decade, having to rely on neighboring police departments' dogs to help when there was a need for a police dog to help track suspects, drug searches, etc.
"The entire program has been resurrected through donations," said Matakeitis, who noted the reason the dog's name is Ace is that the Steward's Ace Hardware store in Clinton donated $6,500 to buy the dog.
Todd Steward, who co-owns the hardware store with Cherie Thompson, grew up in Clinton and worked as a dispatcher in the Clinton Police Department when the department previously had police dogs.
"I thought this was a great opportunity for us, as a local business, to give something back to our police department and our community," said Steward. "I've seen first-hand what a police dog can do, and it's a real benefit to have one."
The Clinton Rotary Foundation also stepped up and made another $5,000 donation to get the K9 unit back on the streets of Clinton.
Additionally, Matakeitis's old high school, Notre Dame of West Haven, kicked in $3,000 to help defray the costs of caring for Ace, and the Shoreline Animal Hospital on West Main Street has pledged its services to the dog.
While Ace is on the job, the training-for the dog and Matakeitis-is an ongoing process.
"Just today we were getting some new training and techniques on drug tracking," said the officer.
Matakeitis's supervisor, Sergeant Jerry Dunn, couldn't be happier to have a dog back working with the Clinton Police Department.
"I'm a big proponent of a police canine program, primarily for a dog's tracking functions, which are superb," said Dunn. "Whether it be a missing child, narcotics, bomb detection-anything, frankly-police dogs have a great nose for detection."
Dunn described the relationship between the dog and his handler "as a team. They live together; there is a loyalty factor that is special."
Dunn said he's hoping as Ace becomes an established member of the police department over the years "that this program will grow and prosper. For a police dog, a span of seven or eight years on the force is a good run," said Dunn. "I'm hoping that down the road when Ace is no longer on the force, we'll have another dog ready to take his place and continue the program."
Those interested in learning more about the K9 unit or making a donation can contact the Clinton Police Department at 860-669-0451.