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Rutland K9 named finalist in vote-driven competition

Rutland’s favorite furry four-legged 4-year-old is trying to win his dad a brand-new car.

For those who haven’t met Cobalt and his handler, Rutland City Police Officer Nathan Harvey, they’re the only K-9 unit at the department and are often seen in their 2014 Ford Explorer cruiser.

Vested Interest in K-9s Inc. collects donations and donates bullet-proof vests, including the one Cobalt wears, to police dogs around the country, and last year they raised enough money to give away a police cruiser to the Fulton County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Department K-9 team Deputy Justin Galbraith and K-9 Fazzo.

Though Rutland City didn’t bring home the free cruiser last year, this year it’s been selected as one of the finalists in the voting competition, pitting them against 29 K-9 teams from across the country, including Ohio, New Jersey, Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire.

As they’ve been selected as a finalist, Harvey said, they will never be allowed to apply again. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Harvey said, otherwise the department would have to take a loss.

If they recruit the most votes, Harvey and Cobalt will win a fully K-9-outfitted 2019 Chevy Tahoe which, for the team, is a huge improvement over their current SUV, which had some trouble starting Friday morning.

And it’s not the first time: His current cruiser was originally a K-9 car recycled over to become an administrative car, before it was transitioned back again into the K-9 unit, but Harvey had to customize it himself and drill holes in the plexiglass shield in lieu of a proper cage.

“It’s getting old, and it’s getting up there in miles,” Harvey said. “Just like all old cars, they have their issues. ... There’s no place in the budget for a new K-9 car, ever.”

K-9 cars are specifically outfitted with K-9 cages, special lights, automatic doors for when they need their dogs in an emergency situation and sensors that tell when the temperature is rising while Cobalt is inside, triggering automatic fans and the windows to roll down so he can cool off.

And the cruisers cost a pretty penny, somewhere in the vicinity of $50,000, Harvey said.

“It all depends on how many votes we get,” Harvey said. “Every single person can vote once a day until Oct. 31.”

After serving in the U.S. Marines from 2009 to 2012 in Afghanistan with a bomb-sniffing K-9, Harvey realized the K-9 team experience would become his life’s passion, and was selected to be Rutland’s K-9 officer after he joined the department in 2014.

“I loved the work they did,” Harvey said. “When I became a police officer, I always wanted to be a handler.”

In 2017, Rutland City Police selected 1-year-old Cobalt, a dark-faced German shepherd imported from Slovakia and sold by Connecticut Canine Services, to join the Rutland team.

“Dogs in America, we kind of bred down to get the good working breeds to be better house pets,” Harvey said. “In Europe, they didn’t do that. They just kept breeding really good working dogs, so a lot of military and police dogs come from Europe.”

They started their training at the Vermont Police Academy in January 2017 and graduated in November 2017, becoming a full-time member of the RCPD as a patrol and narcotics dog trained to track suspects or find people inside buildings, apprehend them, find evidence outside and to locate cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and Ecstasy.

Calls can number 20 times a month, Harvey said, with the majority of calls being for drug sniffs, and he helped apprehend a violent suspect just last week.

Cobalt is certified once a year, has a proven 100% effective narcotics-location rate, and placed third earlier this year in a national certification competition that tested agility, obedience, evidence, and suspect search and apprehension.

With a simple hand gesture and command, Cobalt focuses his attention on everything his handler tells him, including waiting for permission to move, play and move from the car.

When he retires, Cobalt will enjoy a cushy life with Dad, but he’ll be on the force for awhile before the Rutland PD goes looking for their next four-legged hero to join the team, and they currently have a spot open for another K-9 handler on the force.

“We’re going against teams from highly populous areas,” Harvey said of the contest. “Getting the numbers from Vermont is going to be difficult.”

Votes can be cast at Vik9s.org.

katelyn.barcellos @rutlandherald.com

GMP leader stepping down

After 12 years in the position, Mary Powell, president and CEO of Green Mountain Power, will be retiring at the end of the year to be succeeded by Senior Vice President Mari McClure.

In a press release, Powell said that “after 12 years as president and CEO, and over 20 years at GMP (Green Mountain Power), it is time to turn over the reins to a new leader.”

“For my part, I plan to continue the fight against climate change in Vermont and across the country. I care deeply about our customers and this state, and am so proud of the progress we have made to operate efficiently, deliver innovations and act quickly to address the climate crisis,” Powell said.

Powell said there were things she wants to do and projects she would like to tackle, including at the national level, but said she expects to continue living in the Green Mountain State.

“I love Vermont. I’m committed to Vermont,” she said.

However, Green Mountain Power has attracted national interest for the work it’s done as a utility, including a promise to have 100% carbon-free energy by 2025 and 100% renewable energy by 2030, which has created other opportunities.

“I’ve worked a lot on the climate crisis and the intersection between how transforming businesses can relate to the climate crisis, so I have folks that are interested in working with me on a project basis and other things,” she said.

GMP officials have been working on several projects to encourage the use of renewable energy resources, and Powell said those initiatives will continue under McClure. Powell said those projects have “the full support, enthusiasm and passion of the entire Green Mountain Power team, none more so than Mari McClure.”

McClure has been with GMP since 2010. Prior to joining the utility, McClure was an attorney at Vermont’s largest law firm, Downs Rachlin Martin, which has Vermont offices in Burlington, Montpelier, Brattleboro and St. Johnsbury. She played basketball at the University of Buffalo, where she served as captain of the team for two seasons, and was a Division I basketball coach at Colgate University.

McClure said it was an honor to be chosen to lead GMP, and said she looks forward to the future of energy in Vermont. She said she believes her history in the law and athletics would be useful at GMP.

“I’ll be very, very focused on continuing to lead our teams through a very team-oriented structure and framework. I think it’ll be important for us to have clear goals for how to tackle these challenges ahead, and they’re big challenges,” she said.

McClure said she expects to be inspired by what she learned from watching Powell lead GMP when she takes over as president and CEO, which is scheduled to happen on Jan. 1.

According to Powell, she and the board of directors at GMP have been working for the last year on finding the right leader so Powell could feel comfortable making the transition.

“From my perch, when (McClure) was ready, I was ready,” Powell said.

Powell is from New York City but said she came to Vermont in 1989 to benefit from the quality of life in the state. She worked for the state under Govs. Madeleine Kunin, Dick Snelling and Howard Dean.

“Then I worked in banking in Vermont. I launched a couple of businesses and then eventually found my way to Green Mountain Power,” she said.

Powell said there was no particular reason she was moving on now except that she had been with GMP for more than 20 years.

“I have a lot of drive, a lot of energy and interest in bringing that drive and energy to some other things,” she said.

Powell said she believes GMP will continue to move forward with new initiatives after she leaves.

“The biggest challenge and opportunity facing Green Mountain Power is the same one that will be facing every utility in the country. The energy landscape is transforming and people are moving rapidly to self-supply and other changes. At the same time, we have a climate crisis and we need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. So innovate, innovate, innovate. Continue to innovate. That’s what I expect Green Mountain Power to do,” she said.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com

Rotary founder joins sculpture club

The president of the Rutland South chapter of Rotary International said he wasn’t especially keen at first about helping put a statute of the group’s founder up in Rutland.

Paul Harris, who founded the international service group in 1905, grew up in Wallingford, making him a candidate to join local personages such as skiing pioneer Andrea Mead Lawrence and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W. on the Rutland Sculpture Trail — the steadily growing collection of marble sculptures depicting different parts of local history downtown.

However, Rutland South President Ken Nelson said it felt a little too self-congratulatory, and that patting itself on the back isn’t the Rotary way. Then, he said, organizer Steve Costello explained to him the idea and value of the sculpture trail, and how a sculpture of Harris would fit in with the group’s recent focus on helping local youth.

“It builds pride in the community,” Nelson said. “If youth get the opportunity to see famous people who had a connection to the Rutland area — what better gift can we give our youth than to have pride in the place they come from.”

So, Harris was announced as the subject of the eighth sculpture in the trail. Two more — the aforementioned Bill W. and Martin Henry Freeman, the first African-American president of a U.S. college — are scheduled for unveilings later this year. Costello said Harris, with funding from three Rotary clubs, Rutland Blooms, former Rutland school Superintendent Mary Moran and an anonymous donor, should be in place next year.

Amanda Sisk created the model and artist Evan Morse will do the carving. The duo also worked together on the Ann Story sculpture.

Harris was born in 1868 in Wisconsin, but went to live with his grandparents in Wallingford at the age of three. He was expelled from Black River Academy — he had a reputation as a prankster in high school — and then later from University of Vermont.

“They thought he was in — he was in some sort of secret society long before his Rotary days,” Nelson said. “Who knows what he was working on.”

Harris fell upward, attending Princeton for a year but not returning to school after the death of his grandfather. He took up the study of law in Iowa and became a lawyer in Chicago. It was there that he founded the first Rotary Club.

“When he was in Chicago, he felt very alone in the big city and literally said the idea in creating Rotary was to create the sense of fellowship he felt when he lived here,” Costello said.

The idea caught on, and Rotary International had 200,000 members in 75 countries by the time Harris died in 1947. Nelson said the local area is already a destination for Rotarians.

“The school house where he went to school in Wallingford is kind of an international site for Rotary,” he said. “It’s called the Little Red Schoolhouse. The Wallingford Rotary meets there to this day. ... There are Rotarians from around the world who make a pilgrimage to view that place.”

gordon.dritschilo @rutlandherald.com