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Wheeler, Dog Rescued From Shelter, Becomes One Of New York's Toughest Canine Crimefighters

Posted: 03/01/12 05:31 PM ET  |  Updated: 03/02/12 11:46 AM ET

Wheeler Rescued Police Dog

The story of a German Shepherd who was saved from a city shelter to become one of the New York State Police's top crimebusting canines is shedding light on the increasing number of rescue dogs being used by police departments, Petside.com reports.

Known as Sgt. Harry J. Wheeler by state police in Binghamton, New York, the dog has helped authorities locate six missing bodies and dozens of drug stashes since joining the force eight years ago, according to the New York Daily News.

In one case, Wheeler helped discover the body of a four-year-old boy that police say they might not have found on their own, according to the dog's longtime partner and handler, New York State Police Trooper Michael Boburka. Four-year-old Marc Bookal had been missing for months when Wheeler found his body in the city of Newburgh.

"Without the body, [the suspect in the boy's murder] wouldn't have been convicted," Boburka told the Daily News.

"He also found a rapist who'd been hiding in the woods after being charged with raping his 14-year-old stepdaughter," Boburka told The Huffington Post.

But the 10-year-old dog could very easily have been euthanized long ago after being found on the streets of Brooklyn and taken to a city shelter. Luckily, Wheeler crossed paths with a rescue worker from a shelter upstate. Impressed by his alertness and protective nature, she recommended him to the New York State Police, who enrolled him in their 20-week canine training program and paired him with Boburka.

"He's been such a good partner," Boburka told HuffPost. "It's hard being a canine handler but Wheeler made it easy," he said.

Wheeler is one of many rescue dogs the New York State Police has taken into their force since they launched their Division Canine Unit in 1975, which started by training three dogs to detect explosives in preparation for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York, according to the New York State Police website.

The dogs were such an asset that police decided to expand the program, and now it has 66 canine units including 31 explosives detection teams, 32 narcotics detection teams and three teams of bloodhounds.

Steve Peterson, deputy superintendent for the Chicago Police Department, said getting police dogs from shelters is an ideal situation for rescue organizations, officers, and the canines. Last year, Chicago officers found a valuable new member for their narcotics division in the form of a black lab named Pantera who had been waiting for a home at Chicago Ridge Rescue.

One complication for police dogs, however, is what will happen after they are retired from the force. In many cases the dogs are adopted out, but they may face expensive medical care after years of duty.

That's what happened with Shea, a decorated German Shepherd with the New York State Police that was retired after nine years of service. According to Shea's owner, Kathleen Franklin, officials in their town of Ramapo, New York, promised to fund the dog's post-retirement medical care but later backed out when he needed $2,600 worth of surgery, WABC-TV reports.

The Ramapo Police Department has since agreed to foot the bill for all of Shea's medical care, according to the station.

Read more about Wheeler over at the New York Daily News, and watch WABC-TV's report on Shea below:

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Filed by Jocelyn Richard  |