ITHACA, N.Y. – The Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office announced on Wednesday morning that they would be re-instating their K9 program and welcomed their newest – and furriest – member to the force.

Sheriff Ken Lansing said it’s been just over a year since the last sheriff’s K9 unit – K9 Deputy Odee will be the office’s fourth patrol dog.

Lansing said the process for choosing the deputy responsible for the handler position began with a panel of 6 to 10 various deputies and personnel. The panel created a scoring system, and made a decision based on the added scores post-interview.

While Lansing said there were three deputies in the running for the handler position, the panel decided on Deputy Marc Ninivaggi. Ninivaggi has been a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office for four years and was a corrections officer with Tompkins County for nearly four years prior.

“It’s a lot of responsibility, it’s a part of your family that you take home every day and you have to take care of,” Lansing said. “It’s a lot of work, and it says a lot about the deputy and his conviction in wanting to do what’s right.”

Ninivaggi said it’s been over a year-long process since being chosen as the handler, between getting the police vehicle ready, choosing the dog and attending training classes. After all of the preparation, Ninivaggi said Odee is only 6-8 weeks away from becoming a certified police dog.

“Eventually he will be dually trained as both a patrol and narcotics protection dog for the Sheriff’s Office,” Ninivaggi said. “The last three months have been focused on training myself and the dog with the Syracuse Police Dept. for patrol work and tracking work.”

The training classes in Syracuse have included lessons on obedience, tracking for lost persons or suspects, apprehension work and generally transforming Odee, who is 17-months old, from an untrained puppy into a trained service dog.

Ninivaggi said Odee was named after the late Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Odell, who passed away in 2002.

“We named Odee in honor of (Odell) to keep his memory alive in the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

The process of choosing a dog, Lansing said, began with an interview of the handler – who is not sent to choose the dog. After an interview with Ninivaggi, kennel owners brought out 16 dogs which they thought matched his profile. Lansing said he decided on Odee because he was a young dog with a friendly demeanor.

While Odee is technically a member of the Sheriff’s Office, he still goes home with Ninivaggi every night to his family, where he said he has a kennel and lots of space to play.

“It’s great to have a partner with me every day and to go out and know that he’s got my back,” Ninivaggi said. “I know we’re going to have a great career together.”

Featured image: Sheriff’s Deputy Marc Ninivaggi with K9 Deputy Odee. Alyvia Covert/ Ithaca Voice

Alyvia is a Crime Reporter with The Ithaca Voice. She graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Journalism and Photography.