Thanks to donation, K-9 Niko joins Greenfield Police: ‘He has abilities we don’t’

  • Greenfield Police Officer Patrick Merrigan is the handler for K-9 Niko. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Sandri Energy CEO Tim Van Epps and his wife, Wendy Van Epps, pose for a photo with Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and his daughter, Noelle, Officer Patrick Merrigan and K-9 Niko, who was donated to the Police Department by the Van Epps family. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Greenfield Police Officer Patrick Merrigan interacts with the department’s new K-9, Niko. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • A $30,000 grant through the Stanton Foundation helped to pay for outfitting K-9 Niko’s handler’s police cruiser, plus other expenses. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2021 4:39:22 PM

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield Police Department gained a new officer this month, and he’s already keeping his partner busy.

The 1½-year-old German shepherd Niko, donated by the Van Epps family, joins the department as the first K-9 in about five years.

“We’re excited to add another police officer to the force,” said Tim Van Epps, CEO and chair of Sandri Energy in Greenfield. “We couldn’t be any happier.”

Van Epps said he and Chief Robert Haigh Jr. have been talking about reinstating the program for several years.

“This was a monster donation,” said Haigh, who noted K-9 programs can be expensive to start up.

“We’re just so happy to support our first responders,” added Van Epps’ wife, Wendy.

The Police Department was able to acquire a $30,000 grant through the Stanton Foundation, which helped to cover the cost of outfitting his handler’s cruiser with a kennel, temperature control technology and a device that allows the door to be opened remotely if his handler, Officer Patrick Merrigan, is in distress, explained Deputy Chief William Gordon. It also provided coverage for his position while Merrigan was away in western Pennsylvania at Shallow Creek Kennels, meeting Niko.

Gordon emphasized that Niko’s role as a K-9 will involve search and rescue, and tracking. That could mean searching for a despondent person who has left the hospital, a missing child or a person with Alzheimer’s disease, or an individual who flees the scene of a car accident.

And since Niko started earlier this month, Gordon said, he has already aided in two successful search and rescues in Greenfield and Sunderland.

“(The K-9 program) is really to augment some of the calls we take,” said Merrigan. “He has abilities we don’t.”

He explained that to indicate the direction a person might be headed, the K-9 might change his behavior to signal officers.

“When it comes to determining where someone went … police officers can only do so much,” he said. “He’s going to make it so … we’re doing a more thorough job. He’s keeping everyone safer.”

Merrigan, who has already been led uphill by Niko on a successful search that ended at Poet’s Seat Tower, said his new partner is adjusting well — and keeping him busy.

“He’s been picking up stuff very quickly,” he said. While he knows when it’s time to relax, he also knows when it’s time to work.

Gordon added that Niko will respond as mutual aid for other departments, as needed. Previously, the department relied on Montague Police for use of its K-9.

“But it’s not fair for us to keep using their department’s resources,” Gordon said, adding that he is grateful to have Niko as their own.

Haigh said he is grateful for the support of the Van Epps family.

“It was really important to get this program started up,” he said.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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