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Grosse Pointe City

January 29, 2014

Community mourns loss of beloved K-9 Raleigh

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
In the background, retired Grosse Pointe City dispatcher Janet Voccia and Grosse Pointe Woods City Administrator Al Fincham — the former City Public Safety Department director — pay tribute to K-9 Officer Raleigh during a memorial service Jan. 22 at Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church. In front, Raleigh supporters Barbara Cottingham, of Grosse Pointe City, and Jack Reeber, 9, of Grosse Pointe Park, look at photos of the late police dog.
Sgt. Mike Almeranti’s son, Anthony, 6, helps his parents during a memorial service for Raleigh, whose image can be seen on the screen behind him.
 

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Dozens of local officials, residents and fellow K-9 officers gathered Jan. 22 at Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church to pay tribute to a beloved fallen hero.

K-9 Officer Raleigh, whose handler was City Public Safety Sgt. Michael Almeranti, died suddenly Nov. 12 at the age of 9, after a brief illness.

Almeranti’s wife, City Officer Lisa Monticciolo, played a key role in organizing the afternoon memorial service, and the couple’s young son, Anthony, 6, helped out by distributing cards with Raleigh’s picture to attendees as they arrived. An estimated crowd of 70 was on hand for the service, including K-9 officers from St. Clair Shores, Roseville, Hamtramck, Allen Park, Westland, Romulus, Southgate, Farmington Hills, Canton Township, Redford Township and Melvindale, many accompanied in the church by their dogs.

“You guys are just not only great K-9 handlers and great officers, but great friends,” Almeranti told them as he thanked his fellow K-9 officers, City officials, family members and community supporters for all they had done for Raleigh and the Grosse Pointe K-9 program over the years.

“Raleigh was a unifying force within this community,” Almeranti said. “One thing he always did was connect with people.”

Raleigh arrived in the Pointes in 2005, making him the first Grosse Pointe K-9 in memory, said Grosse Pointe Woods City Administrator Al Fincham, who was the City’s public safety director at that time. Fincham said Raleigh was “a very worthwhile addition to the community.”

“Almost immediately, one of the goals was to involve the community and our students,” Fincham recalled, noting that Raleigh earned his name thanks to a contest through the schools. “Over the past seven years, Mike and Raleigh’s bond grew. … They became an immediate success in the Grosse Pointes. Grosse Pointers are known as dog lovers. … Our residents embraced the idea of having a K-9 team.”

Raleigh and Almeranti “received numerous awards and citations” during their tenure together, and the German shepherd was a fierce foe when it came to fleeing felons, but he also had a gentle side that was especially visible around children, who Fincham said “fell in love with” the furry crime fighter.

Terry Foley, a retired police officer and master trainer who now owns K9 Academy Training Facility in Taylor, said Almeranti evaluated roughly a dozen dogs in October 2005 before choosing Raleigh, largely because the dog had focused so keenly on the officer.

“Raleigh showed him something on that particular day — that he wanted to come back to (Almeranti’s) community and make a difference,” Foley said.

He said being a K-9 handler comes with a unique and extensive set of responsibilities, from weekly training exercises to caring for the dog to being ready to go to a scene whenever the dog’s skills are called for, regardless of whether the handler is on shift at that time.

“Mike said he wanted to make a difference for his community, above and beyond (being) an officer,” Foley said.

Current City Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni said Raleigh deterred violent crime and responded to more than 1,500 calls, including building searches. Raleigh and Almeranti took part in more than 150 demonstrations throughout the community, many at schools, he said.

“They were appreciated and loved throughout the Grosse Pointes,” Poloni said of Almeranti and Raleigh. “It was a successful team.”

Jack Reeber, 9, of Grosse Pointe Park, was one of the many local youngsters who bonded with Raleigh. He presented Almeranti with a large packet of letters he’d collected from fellow students at local schools expressing their condolences, support and affection for Raleigh, and calling for Almeranti to receive a new K-9 for the community.

Reeber, who met Raleigh about a year before the dog’s death while the boy was undergoing cancer treatments, said he liked Raleigh “because he would play with me a lot and let me pet him.” Almeranti said because of Raleigh, the police were able to make a connection with kids. With Raleigh at his side, a routine foot patrol through the Village would take about an hour, as adults and kids alike stopped to chat and say hello to the friendly, four-legged public servant. Just recently, Almeranti said that same patrol, sans Raleigh, took him just minutes.

“He was a valuable asset,” retired City Public Safety Director James Fox said of Raleigh. “Everyone in the community liked him — especially kids at the schools when he would go there. He did an excellent job when called on, as (demonstrated) by the number of arrests his (human) partner made and the number of bites.”

Allen Park Police Officer Dan Mack, accompanied by K-9 Officer Clyde, knows what Almeranti is going through, having lost a K-9, the retired Callahan, in July 2013 when the dog was 13.

“It’s like losing your best friend,” he said. “You’re with them more than you’re with your own wife and kids. It’s an amazing feeling to know you have a partner who’s willing to give his life for you.” Mack said the death of a K-9 “leaves a void.”

Fincham concurred.

“Not only did he lose his partner, but (Raleigh) was a member of his family,” Fincham said of Almeranti.

At home, Raleigh was a typical — if well-trained — family dog, playing with Almeranti and Monticciolo’s son and their other dog, a female German shepherd who, like her human family members, has mourned the loss of her buddy. A slideshow of photographs screened at the memorial showed Raleigh at work and at play.

Almeranti fought back tears as he recalled his loyal companion.

“He was the best partner I could ever ask for, and I know he’s watching over us,” he said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.