Ernie Boch Jr. gives $65,000 to new Martha’s Vineyard K-9 unit

Ernie Boch, Jr. gets to know Buster, at Ocean Park. — Photo by Rebecca Gauchman

Ernie Boch Jr. came on down to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday, bearing a check for $65,000, to help Buster, a specially trained drug sniffing dog, combat drug abuse.

Mr. Boch, a seasonal Edgartown resident who is president and CEO of Subaru of New England, donated a specially equipped vehicle for the Island’s new K-9 unit. Buster, a black Labrador retriever, will patrol in the vehicle with his handler, Oak Bluffs police officer Jeff Trudel.

Mr. Boch got to meet Buster and see him demonstrate how he searches for narcotics, during a ceremony at the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company.

“They told me they needed it,” Mr. Boch said. “How could I say no to this? I think it’s a great cause, I think it’s really cool. It should be part of the solution.”

Mr. Boch said he was impressed by the department’s plans to use Buster as part of a program to educate Island children.

“This whole drug thing is terrible,” Mr. Boch said. “If you can get kids young and educate them, you can prevent this.”

Aquinnah police detective Ryan Ruley made the connection with Mr. Boch that led to the donation.

He said Mr. Boch’s late father provided a generous donation to fund the Little League teams Mr. Ruley coached more than a decade ago, so he appealed to Ernie Boch Jr. about a month ago. He said Mr. Boch and his staff took an immediate interest.

“They asked us what made our program different,” Detective Ruley said. “We told them how the dog works, what the law is, where the money would go. Within two weeks, they came up with the money.”

In addition to the specially equipped vehicle, Mr. Boch donated money for other needs, including computer software that documents Buster’s ongoing training and work. The computer reports are used as evidence when drug offenders are prosecuted in court.

“The evidence is pretty rock solid,” Officer Trudel said. “The dog, in his nature, doesn’t lie.”

Buster has already detected illegal narcotics on three operations by the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force over the past two weeks.

The rambunctious dog, who recently completed an eight week training program, demonstrated his skills for the assembled dignitaries. Officer Trudel hid a small amount of marijuana in the restaurant. Buster found the drugs in seconds. He sprawled on the floor with tail wagging, touching his nose to the draperies where the drugs were hidden. He was rewarded with food from a pouch on Officer Trudel’s belt.

Also on hand at the Wednesday gathering were all of the Island’s police chiefs, as well as others who have donated goods and services to the new K-9 program.

Buster himself came as a gift from the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department, and the Plymouth County Sheriff provided training at no cost.

Dr. Steven Atwood of Animal Health Care Associates provides all routine veterinarian care. Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier donates all the dog food.

Oak Bluff police Chief Erik Blake said the K-9 unit was established at no cost to taxpayers. It will operate entirely on donations and money seized during drug investigations.

The Island’s six local police departments and the Dukes County Sheriff voted to establish a police K-9 unit earlier this year. Buster and Officer Trudel will be on call for duty in all towns.

Local police departments have a memorandum of understanding that outlines how the unit is funded. If Buster and Officer Trudel are on duty, but needed in another town, that town will cover the cost of filling Officer Trudel’s shift in Oak Bluffs. If the K-9 unit is off duty when needed in another town, that town will cover any expense associated with the operation.