Furry Crime Fighter

K-9 Zara hangs with his best friend, Port Orange Police Officer Christopher Cravatta.

They are only two years old, but are some of the Port Orange Police Department’s best weapons to fight crime.

Meet Buddy and Zara, narcotics detection dogs that replaced two other dogs that recently retired or died.

The pair of golden retrievers hail from Columbia and each live with their respective handlers. Buddy was partnered with Officer Crysta McBride. Zara was partnered with Officer Christopher Cravotta.

Each K9 is specifically chosen from its litter based on its qualities for initial training by the police department’s vendor, Southern Coast K9. Port Orange Police chose Zara and Buddy from the available canines. K9 handlers interact with the available canines to ensure a good match. The dogs spent several months training on the odor of narcotics.

The handler and K9 must complete a 160-hour course and pass a written and practical test to obtain certification. Once certified, each K9 team trains at a minimum of once a week. The majority of the K9’s work will be open air sniffs around a vehicle, however, the dogs can also be used at other scenes.

Also, Zara and Buddy can take part in the DARE program or be available to assist other area agencies.

“I am extremely excited to have Buddy as a K9 partner and cannot wait to see the achievements Buddy will have throughout his career,” said Officer McBride. “In the short time Buddy has been in service, he has already taken narcotics off of the streets of Port Orange. We are very lucky to serve the citizens of Port Orange.

“Buddy is a best friend to anyone he meets. Buddy is a very social and happy dog. Buddy is known for his intelligence while he is in work mode and his goofiness while not preforming his work tasks. Buddy enjoys his days off of work at home by taking long naps and playing with his ‘sister’, who is a one-year-old black lab.”

Officer Cravotta stated, “Zara is not your everyday normal dog. She has many special qualities, which makes her good at what she does and valuable to the Port Orange Police Department. Zara’s best qualities would be her loyalty, eagerness to work and learn, and her infectious personality. I truly believe I have the best position at the police department and I look forward to serving the community for many years to come with K9 Zara by my side.”

Chief Thomas Grimaldi said the department has maintained as least four police canines over the last several years. Recently a decision was made to focus on narcotic detection dogs due to a lack of adequate dual-purpose training opportunities and the fact that almost 94% of incidents involving the police canines are for narcotic sniffs as opposed to other police canine functions.

“It is simply an example of reallocating our resources to where we are using them and to make more efficient and effective use of those resources,” the chief said.

The department has agreements with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to provide patrol dogs or bloodhounds for tracking.

“Unfortunately, illicit drugs are in every city and town in our country,” Chief Grimaldi said. “Port Orange is no different. Our nation is currently in the deadly grip of an opioid epidemic, costing people their lives and those of their loved ones. It has had an effect on everyone, either directly or indirectly. I would not say that Port Orange has a 'big problem,' but we would be naive to believe it does not exist in our city.”

The illicit drug trade and the use of drugs contributes to other crimes, often committed to fund a habit.

“So, while it is not a ‘big problem,' we realize that it exists as it does in every city and we want to get out in front of it by being proactive,” he said. “Our narcotic detection dogs help us achieve that goal.”

He added, “Removing those criminals from our community makes everyone safer, helps us achieve our mission and our canines can assist us with that.”

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