K9 Vega-Ella, the Town of Saugerties Police dog, was laid to rest Tuesday, June 12 in a private ceremony. She was 9 years old. The announcement of her death on the Police Department’s website is dated May 22.
Lt. Stephen Filak said 15 to 20 people attended the funeral at the home of Sgt. Michael Craft, her handler. Vega-Ella was considered a member of the department, Filak said.
“She did many of the tasks that a member of the police department does. She protected her handler, detected drugs and helped with crowd control.”
“That [nine years] is about the end of a police dog’s working life,” said Councilman Fred Costello. He described the ceremony as moving, and said the dog “was a dedicated member of the police department.”
Sgt. Michael Craft said Vega-Ella appeared to be in good health up to her death. However, she had a tumor on her spleen.
The dog was especially proficient at searching for drugs and she was a good tracker. She located several missing persons during her career. “We would use her several times a week,” Craft said. “We could open a door, and she would search the building for us.”
When a police dog does track a suspect down, there’s rarely an occasion for heroics, as most suspects give up as soon as they see the dog, Craft said. He recalled an incident about two years ago in which police were seeking a suspect, and neighbors pointed down the street, saying he ran. But when Ella was brought out, she headed right under the deck. “He was hiding under a tarp, and Ella went straight for him.”
Vega-Ella was Craft’s second dog. He has been working with a police dog for the past 16 years, and he hopes he can continue with a new dog.
Police Chief Joseph Sinagra said he would like to get another dog and possibly expand the canine program to include a second dog. The community has already pledged to contribute enough to buy the dog, and a local veterinarian has promised free health care, he said.
Craft agreed that the Saugerties Police Benevolent Association and the Ulster County PBA have both contributed money for a new dog, and individuals in the community are also contributing. A well-bred “green” dog, that is, a dog with some basic training, but not fully trained, costs about $6,500, Craft said, “and I can do the rest of the training, and I have the equipment that goes with it.”
Craft has also offered to give up accumulated overtime credits associated with caring for a police dog in his home to make the dog more affordable for the town.