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Rico grows reputation by lending a paw

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mercyhurst police officer Brandon Miller with Rico

He has four legs, a tail and a unique set of skills available to any law enforcement agency that needs him.

Rico, the Mercyhurst University Police & Safety Department’s Belgian Malinois, has made quite a name for himself in the region since helping out with a bomb threat at Penn State Behrend earlier this month. A member of the department since November 2013, the Holland-born dog is trained in explosive detection, tracking and handler protection.

“We decided a couple years ago that we wanted a bomb and explosive-type dog,” said Mercyhurst Police Chief Robert Kuhn. “It’s a good idea to have an explosive trained dog on campus” given the trend in terrorism toward attacks on soft targets.

As news spreads of Rico’s capabilities, Mercyhurst police have asked for the public’s help in supporting Mercyhurst’s canine unit. And so far, the community has responded generously. Several people have offered financial contributions, including one man who donated $1,000. An Erie woman who has done work for the U.S. military has already offered to make a Kevlar vest for Rico – one that’s bullet-proof, stab-proof and fire-proof.

“We’ve all seen cases of K-9 dogs getting killed in action,” Kuhn said. “It’ll be good to have a vest for Rico.”

Originally funded by $13,000 in private funds secured with the assistance of state Sen. Sean Wiley, the canine unit receives continued donations from Erie Insurance and the Erie County 911 center. Additional funding is needed for veterinary bills, maintenance on the department’s canine vehicle, training updates and equipment to keep Rico safe, especially for when he gets called on tracking missions, Kuhn said.

Though not even 3 years old, Rico is quickly building an impressive resume. Earlier this month, when police evacuated the Reed Union Building on the campus of Penn State Behrend because of a bomb threat, Rico was called in to lend a paw. He and Mercyhurst police officer Brandon Miller, Rico’s handler, spent several hours sweeping the Behrend campus. Miller and Rico also helped secure Erie Insurance Arena before the Rock the Lakes Erie music and evangelism festival took place there in September.

As the only explosive-detection dog in the area, Rico is always on call to help out other area law-enforcement agencies.

“We want him to be a regional asset so we can assist other agencies when they need us,” Kuhn said. “If anybody needs our help, we’ll go where you need us.”

Known for their intelligent, energetic and hard-working dispositions, Belgian Malinois are frequently used for protection and police work, and are employed by the Secret Service to protect the White House. Rico, who lives with his handler Miller and comes to work with him each night, certainly embodies these characteristics of his breed.

“Rico is a high-energy dog, able to go all day, which is why he’s good for this work. He’s always working,” Kuhn said. “He’s a really friendly dog, too. If he were here, he’d be in your lap right now.”

Anyone interested in making a donation for Rico can contact the Mercyhurst Police & Safety Office in the lower level of McAuley Hall. Donations can be mailed to:

Police & Safety Office, Mercyhurst University, 501 E. 38th St., Erie, PA 16546.