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Police puppy ready to grow into patrol job: Neila becomes Officer Austin’s new partner

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Police Department’s newest recruit isn’t striking fear in the hearts of would-be criminals — at least not yet.
At 12 weeks old, weighing around 20 pounds and eager to give out kisses, Officer Neila is melting her share of hearts as she prepares to grow into the role of Middlebury PD’s new police dog.
Toward the end of this year, she’ll be helping Middlebury police take a bite out of crime.
At this point, the only thing she’s interested in biting is the stuffed toy duck that she carries around in her tiny chocolate muzzle.
“I’ve had to sew it up a few times already,” her handler and team member, Officer Bill Austin, said of his adorable sidekick’s favorite plaything.
It was on Town Meeting Day this past March that Middlebury voters agreed to spend $30,620 to re-establish a K-9 program for their local police department. This money helped pay for the purchase of Neila from some nationally renowned breeders of Belgian Malinois in the Boston area. The town resources will also help cover some of the significant, first-year expenses of the program. Austin and Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley expressed gratitude to local voters and to the many area businesses and individuals who have agreed to donate additional dollars for K-9 program necessities ranging from dog chow to a special, climate-controlled compartment in Austin’s cruiser in which Neila will ride.
She and Austin in late July will begin a 16-week training course at the Vermont Police Academy. The duo will be drilled in a variety of tactics to ensure they work together as a team. Neila will graduate as a general patrol dog, meaning she will provide another set of eyes and ears for Austin when he is on the road. She will possess basic tracking skills and will serve as an extra deterrent to suspects who might consider harming Austin and/or fleeing from custody.
Neila will also serve as a nice public relations tool for the department, and she is already winning tons of fans. Austin recently introduced his future cruiser mate to hundreds of children at Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School.
“They all wanted to pet her,” Austin smiled.
Though still a tiny-toothed tot, Neila is already showing great intelligence and instincts — which bodes well for her success at the academy. She learned the “sit” command within four days of her arrival. Austin is now trying to get her to lay down and stay in place. He is getting her acclimated to being around other people, the police station and other settings she’ll encounter when she starts her job.
“Right now, we’re starting with simple obedience and socialization,” Austin said.
Along with potty training.
But that shouldn’t be too tall a task for a pup whose name Neila means “champion” in Gaelic.
Austin and Neila are, and will continue to be, inseparable. She lives with the Austin family and has become an instant hit. She’s made herself at home — perhaps too much at home, according to the Austins’ family dog, a golden/boxer named Darby. Neila likes to mix it up with the bigger Darby and then crashes in Darby’s dog bed. Fortunately, Darby is pretty passive and is content to lay next to her Neila-filled bed.
Ultimately, Austin hopes that Neila, like most humans, will be able to separate work from home.
“I want her to learn the duality,” Austin said.
Meanwhile, Neila is starting to obey the rules of the house. She’s not allowed in the kitchen or dining room during dinner. Austin is occasionally using food treats as training incentives.
“Training is going extremely well,” he said. “It’s amazing how quick she’s learning the littlest of things.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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