A ‘Tail’ of Two Unlikely Work Partners and Their Friendship
A bond between a police officer and his dog is never broken. Michael Barbagallo has been working in the K-9 Unit in Poughkeepsie for 13 years. He has been an officer for 24 years and did a little bit of everything. ”When the opportunity came up as a K-9 handler, I took it,” Barbagallo said. He applied for the position and is now working with his second dog.
His trusty partner is Falcone, a German shepherd who is four years old. He was imported from Germany and cost $10,000. “I picked him out from a broker who deals with police canines. He was about a little over a year [old] when I got him,” Barbagallo said.
Upon receiving the puppy, his name was already chosen. Falcone is named after a police officer, posthumously promoted to detective, John Falcone, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in Poughkeepsie five years ago. “He was a very good friend of mine,” Barbagallo said.
When Detective Falcone died, it was heartbreaking for Barbagallo. Matthew Tator, an officer and friend of Barbagallo, also knew detective John Falcone. “He was a true hero,” Tator said. “We knew as soon as we saw the dog, he would be named after an honorable, hardworking man who was dedicated to his job and the people of his community.”
Barbagallo trains his own dogs. He attended a special school for canines and certified handlers for four months with police officers from other departments. He trained with sheriffs’ departments from Rockland County, Clarkston, Ramapo, Haverstraw, and Tuxedo.
According to Police Canine Training Standards prepared by New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and Bureau for Municipal Police, the dog and dog handler have to work on five things over the course of four months. They have to work on obedience for 80 hours, agility for 40 hours, building search for 80 hours, area search for 40 hours, and apprehension for 100 hours.
Michael Barbagallo explained his days of going to school with Falcone. “The dog lives with me and becomes part of my family,” Barbagallo said. “Every day we would get up and go to school. Five days and 40 hours a week for four months we get up and then we graduate. Then we go on the street. Being on the street is a whole other world.”
Falcone is also Narcotics-certified. “It’s a separate school which takes six weeks of training to seek out the odor of narcotics,” Barbagallo said. “This school is totally different than patrol training, because it’s all fun and play.”
Falcone’s time on the street has been pretty slow lately. “Poughkeepsie hasn’t been as busy as it used to be, so Falcone hasn’t had as much action,” Barbagallo said. “But he’s had three bites with him in the last two and a half years, and a couple of narcotics finds.”
The pair does building searches as well. “If we see a door is kicked in or a window is broken and we think someone is in the home, we give an announcement at the door that there is police K-9 and then I let Falcone loose at the door,” Barbagallo explained. “Falcone will go in the house and search. If a person is hiding anywhere in the house in a room with the door shut, he will smell human odor and he is trained to bark at the door to let us know someone is there. So we do a lot of those.”
Watching Falcone grow is a huge part of Barbagallo’s life. “It’s fun but aggravating sometimes, because it’s a dog not a human,” Barbagallo said. “They have to be able to respond to you. Some dogs don’t respond very well to their handlers. That’s why it’s very important to bond with your dog. It basically becomes your child. You have to discipline him when it’s time to discipline, and reward him when it’s time to reward him.”
It’s a very tight bond between dog and handler. “The dog has to be able to respond to you, respect you and know that you are the boss,” Barbagallo said.
Barbagallo describes working with an animal as a partner as interesting and like “having a little kid” in the car. “He’s happy and bouncing around because he knows we’re going to work. He knows the difference between if we are going to train or to work. It’s amazing how smart they are.”
Falcone is also a people person. “He gets along well with everyone at work,” Tator said. “It’s amazing to see how Falcone responds to Michael. With just one command, Falcone can go from a calm friendly dog to a vicious dog in attack mode, ready to catch a criminal.”
Falcone and Barbagallo have come a long way. On the job or off the job, these two are best friends. “There are a lot of fun things about it. I’d never trade it for the world,” Barbagallo said.