PALMETTO -- Local law enforcement's newest drug-fighting officer is a friendly four-legged Italian.
Chica is sociable but don't be fooled. She is serious about finding drugs, police say.
"Chica is a drug-sniffing machine," Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells said Tuesday at a news conference where Chica was officially introduced. "You can take Chica and throw her in this room and she is going to find the dope."
Chica is trained to locate drugs such marijuana, cocaine and rock cocaine. She can even sniff out drug residue.
Still a puppy, Chica is a 10-month-old Epagneul Breton in the spaniel family. She was brought to Palmetto by breeder/owner Paolo Lerici and trainer Andrea Bogiatto from Italy as a gift to the city.
The gesture was also made in hopes of establishing a breeding business.
"We had the opportunity to have the dog donated by Andrea," Wells said. "He wanted to give us the dog so we could basically not only have a good dog that does nothing but search for drugs but to spotlight how talented a trainer he is."
Chica has been trained as a "single-purpose" dog who specializes in finding drugs. She will not patrol or assist in apprehending suspects.
Palmetto already has two K-9 officers, Xent and Arek, both of which are "dual-purpose."
While Xent and Arek work the night shift, Chica will be working alongside partner, Officer Zachary Cissell, during the day shift.
"One of our goals as a department is that we would like to have a canine on each shift," Deputy Chief Scott Tyler said.
Chica's breed was specifically chosen by Bogiatto although it is uncommon for small dogs to be K-9 officers.
"We searched for this breed because it able to acclimate to weather and the environment," Bogiatto said.
Traditionally Epagneul Bretons are hunting dogs, but the Palmetto Police Department said her small body will come in handy when searching cars or other small spaces for drugs.
The department also hopes using a smaller breed will mean a longer career. Chica does not tire easily, which will be useful in large searches.
Chica also brings considerable social skills to the department.
"She is not aggressive so you can walk her through a school," Wells said. "She's also got that relationship quality so that if we want to bring her to an event we don't have to worry about those aggressive qualities."
Manatee County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Michael Kenyan helped make Chica's arrival possible. Kenyan met Bogiatto's brother by chance at a Starbucks two years ago. The two discussed Bogiatto's interests in retiring from the Italian State Police after a nearly 10-year career as an officer and K-9 handler to start a business training dogs for law enforcement.
Bogiatto had originally expressed desire to donate a dog to the sheriff's office, which already has several K-9s.
Kenyan asked him; "Why don't you go to an agency that doesn't have the resources for a new dog?"
Kenyan invited Bogiatto to visit last year, which is when he met Wells.
Chica, who follows commands in Italian, will continue to train for a couple of weeks with Bogiatto and then with the department's trainer.
"We think Chica will be a big plus, not just for our agency but for other agencies in the county," Wells said.
Jessica De Leon, Herald Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.