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Clinton Police Officer Jason Frey, shown here with his K-9 partner Sonny, was awarded the Clinton Chamber of Commerce’s Public Service Award of Distinction in October. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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Clinton Police Officer Jason Frey may have the most interesting partner in the department. Jason is the K-9 officer for the department, which means his partner is Sonny the German shepherd.
It’s a role he’s thoroughly enjoying, though it took some adjustment.
“I thought I had a good idea of what being a K-9 officer would be like, but I had no idea,” Jason says.
Being a K-9 officer presents a unique set of challenges that Jason must navigate. For one thing, Sonny takes commands in German, which serves an important purpose: If Jason gives a command in English to a person, Sonny may become confused regarding for whom the command is meant.
“I do not speak German, but I know about 20 commands,” Jason says.
Jason says that Sonny is very social, so naturally people are drawn to him. It’s up to Jason’s discretion of when he can let people interact with Sonny, and that includes saying “No” sometimes, especially if the dog is working.
“I was taught how to read my dog,” says Jason.
Jason grew up in Deep River and graduated from Valley Regional High School, but he moved to Clinton in the early 2000s. In 2005, Jason joined the U.S. Army out of a desire to go to college. He served for eight years, including infantry deployment to Afghanistan. While serving, Jason was able to be around the military dogs.
“I was around the dogs, but not a handler. That’s where I got my first exposure and sparked my interest,” Jason says.
Jason joined the department in 2012—he says he was humbled to get the call, and that “It was the best decision I ever made to stick with it.”
A few years after Jason joined, Police Chief Vincent DeMaio announced he wanted to revamp the K-9 program that had been discontinued. Jason applied, along with five or six fellow applicants from the department. After a lengthy application process, Jason was chosen as the K-9 officer, and the Board of Selectmen granted the department permission to reestablish the program in March of 2017.
The department raised more than $15,000 through fundraisers and donations to train and purchase Sonny. The department also has a special car made for K-9 patrol, with specific equipment for Sonny.
The dog is named Sonny because Sonny Whelen, the owner of Whelen Engineering in Chester, made a substantial contribution to the department.
Jason and Sonny underwent about six months, or 500 hours, of training, then the team was officially ready for the streets in October 2017.
“He’s a very talented dog, and he’s very good at what he does,” says Jason.
Jason says that Sonny is an asset to the department in a variety of ways, including his ability to de-escalate a situation, his work in evidence recovery, and his work in narcotics detection. A video of Sonny doing a narcotics detection drill from earlier in 2018 is available on www.zip06.com.
Jason says the department has estimated the street value of narcotics Sonny has found to have been more than $20,000, or more than what it cost to purchase him.
“There is value in having a dog,” Jason says.
One way people can interact with Sonny and Jason is by following the pair on Instagram under the username Clinton_police_k9. Jason says he decided to start the page after he met at a training session another K-9 officer who had started an Instagram account.
Jason approached the chief about starting a page, with the idea that it would be an avenue for the department to be open with the public about the program. Jason posts often, mostly video of daily training exercise he is doing with Sonny, as well as some lighter moments of the pair.
At press time, the account had more than 28,000 followers.
“I had no idea it was going to turn into what it is,” Jason says.
Jason says the account also shows the progress he and Sonny have made as a team. Jason says that the K-9 program largely runs on donations and fundraisers. Jason has his own online store of gear, which he calls Sonny Swag, that is available to purchase from k9sonny.myshopify.com.
Having Sonny for a partner means that Jason is never truly off the clock, for when he goes home he takes Sonny home with him.
“He’s become a lifestyle,” Jason says.
Sonny has become so intertwined with his personal life that Jason finds it hard to think of hobbies he has outside of work. For example, when he’s doing yardwork or when driving around town, he’ll see an obstacle or environment that’s new and think to himself, “That’d make a good training environment for Sonny.”
In recognition of his services, Jason was awarded the Clinton Chamber of Commerce’s Public Service Award of Distinction in October. Jason says he was humbled to get the honor.
“Sonny should be the person of the week, I’m just the guy that holds the leash,” Jason says.
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