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Four-legged graduates are ready for their debut

Ellen Abbott

It's graduation season in Central New York.  But it's not just high schools and universities turning out graduates. It's also commencement time for some four-legged students.

Nine dogs, mostly German Shepherds, are now ready to hit the streets to help police catch criminals. The teams come from as far as from Niagara County in the west to Columbia County in the east, to take part in the police dog training program run by the Syracuse Police Department.

The dogs and handlers graduated during a ceremony at Syracuse's Inner Harbor last week.

Columbia County Sheriff's Deputy Heath Benansky and his dog Apollo were among the graduates.  He gets to choose the dog, and picked a playful one to train. He did this because he knew it would help during work.

"When we search for drugs they are actually looking for their toy…it's something we instill in training," Benansky said.

Now, Canine Apollo will become his best friend.

"He's in the car with us anytime I go to work. So if I were to come across a burglary suspect or a bank robbery, and the subject was fleeing, I'd be able to deploy the dog to apprehend the subject," Benansky said.

Syracuse Police Sergeant Tim Stepian runs the camp.

"We have various sites in the city and county, in the city and in parks. We train here. We try to get them into the environment they'll be working,” Stepian said.

Stepian says the Syracuse program is one of the more popular police dog training programs in the state.