Nov 5, 2013
drug-sniffing dog Nikita during the filming of a PBS show called
“Shelter Me” at the high school.
(T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG)
By: Susan Spencer
Telegram & Gazette Staff
SUTTON — Hollywood came to Sutton High School Thursday and the star of the production, a rescued street dog from Puerto Rico, drew as much attention from students as any A-list celebrity.
Nikita, a 17-month-old terrier-Labrador mix who was adopted from Sterling Animal Shelter and trained to detect narcotics for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit, appeared unfazed by the film crew following him for an upcoming episode of the national PBS series “Shelter Me.”
He was just doing his job, demonstrating to a criminal justice class with his partner, Sgt. Thomas P. Chabot, how he sniffs out and pinpoints hidden drugs.
Two small packets of a heroin derivative, wrapped in coffee filters and folded to the size of a pack of gum, had been surreptitiously placed in one of the student’s backpacks by the sergeant. Nikita, a small bundle of energy, sniffed determinedly from pack to pack. When he found the scent, he promptly sat and touched his nose repeatedly to the drug’s location, in exchange for a treat from Sgt. Chabot.
Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, who spoke to the class while the camera rolled, said beforehand: “What I love about him is he’s basically a deterrent. He’s a passive-alert dog. He’s not here to scare you, he’s basically here to sniff drugs on you.”
Nikita’s duties include scouring the county Jail and House of Correction’s mailroom and cellblocks for a wide range of drugs, from marijuana and heroin to prescription drugs such as painkillers that are likely to be abused.
His first day on the job, Nikita detected Suboxone, a prescription narcotic, that had been crushed and hidden on the glue of an envelope that came through the mailroom.
“This wonderful shelter pooch is doing so much work for you,” Sheriff Evangelidis, who has two shelter dogs of his own, told the class.
Award-winning film producer and director Steven Latham of Los Angeles, who oversaw the set in the high school classroom, said, “This story is what ‘Shelter Me’ is all about. When Nikita’s given a second chance, he’s got a job, he’s becoming a partner.”
He added, “What I love about this series is you can find these incredible dogs in the shelter; so what does it mean for my family? We’re trying to erase the stigma of shelter pets.”
According to the show’s website, “Shelter Me” is an inspiring series that celebrates shelter pets with positive and uplifting stories. The program tells stories about people’s lives being improved when they adopt a shelter pet.
Every year, 3 million to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in American shelters, the show information says.
“Shelter Me” is sponsored by Ellen DeGeneres’ pet-food company, Halo, Purely for Pets and by PetSafe.
Nikita’s partner, Sgt. Chabot, reinforced the show’s message of second chances: “He was a street dog in Puerto Rico,” he told the class. “Look at him now: He’s got a job in narcotics detection.”
Nikita spends all day at work with Sgt. Chabot and lives with his family in Ashburnham.
“He’s in the car with me everywhere I go. When I’m doing something, I have to think about him,” he said.
Nikita has benefited from human generosity all around. After he was rescued through the Save Our Satos program affiliated with Sterling Animal Shelter and donated to the sheriff’s office, he received free training for K-9 unit work from the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office. Holden Veterinary Clinic provides free medical care. Employees of a Lancaster business, D’Ambrosio Eye Care, raised more than $1,000 for a bulletproof vest for Nikita.
“They say it takes a village,” Sgt. Chabot said. “This is his village.”
Principal Theodore McCarthy immediately saw the educational benefits of bringing in the K-9 unit and the film crew. He said that the high school has offered a criminal justice class, taught by Michael Whittier, for 16 years. The program offered a way to link what students were learning in the classroom to real life.
“Opportunities like this open it up to kids,” Mr. McCarthy said. “It’s the kind of thing that needs to happen more in school. If you can bring in real-world tie-ins, it means more to the kids.”
The high school students, part of the media-immersed millennial generation, seemed more intrigued by Nikita than by the presence of the film crew that shadowed their class.
Junior Alexis Morris, 16, whose father is a Worcester police officer, said it was “funny” when Nikita detected the drugs in a backpack that had been placed near her feet.
“It was neat to see how well he reacted to it and how he put his nose to it,” she said.
Caitlin Paul, an 18-year-old senior, said, “For a couple of years, I’ve been thinking of being in a K-9 unit myself, so this solidified it.”
While the filmmaking aspect of Nikita’s visit seemed almost transparent, another area student, Rebecca Reese, a freshman from Dracut studying media communications at Anna Maria College, was on hand to learn life on the set.
Ms. Reese was hired as a production assistant for the three days that “Shelter Me” would be filmed in the region. She said she would be holding light reflectors, running errands or doing whatever needed to be done.
“I went to a technical high school and I’m used to shoots like this, but this is the first I’m doing on my own,” she said.
Nikita’s story will air next May in Episode 4 of “Shelter Me.”
The PBS crew also planned to film Nikita, Sgt. Chabot and others at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in West Boylston, Sterling Animal Shelter, Community Corrections Center in Worcester, the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office and at Sgt. Chabot’s home.
Oct 30, 2013
BY CHARLES KELLEHER HARRIS
AUBURN — A project that would have cost more than $10,000 for the Auburn Fire and Rescue Department ended up only costing a fraction of that thanks to Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis’ Community Service Program.
On Friday, Oct. 18, Evangelidis visited the Auburn Fire Station on Auburn Street. There, four inmates from the Worcester House of Corrections were painting the men’s locker room. Earlier inmates from the Community Service Program painted most of the fire station’s garage.
“I’ve found that a lot of communities don’t have the money to complete projects like this,” Evangelidis said. “The Auburn Fire Department just doesn’t have the resources.”
Auburn Fire and Rescue Department Chief Stephen M. Coleman Jr. agreed.
“What would have taken the on-duty fire personnel three months to do, they did in two weeks,” Coleman said of the inmates. “This is an incredible resource.”
Since 2010, the Community Service Program has saved almost a quarter of a million dollars for communities and non-profit organizations all across the county.
Inmates perform duties such as landscaping, maintenance and clean up. There is also a ‘Stick- n-Pick’ program through which inmates clean up litter at various locations. Not just any inmate can participate in the program, however. “These inmates must be pre-qualified,” explained Evangelidis. “Not everybody is eligible. These are the best inmates. They earn their way into this program.” Evangelidis went on to say that inmates selected were well behaved, trustworthy and generally serving short sentences.
“As many know the recidivism rate [for inmates] is at 50 percent,” he said. “But these guys are not likely to re-offend. This is a big part of preparing them to reenter the community.” Evangelidis sends out up to four crews of inmates daily to various locations in Worcester County. Each crew is overseen by an officer.
Participating inmates also see the benefits of the Community Service Program.
“This program gives me a chance to learn new skills,” said inmate Matt McCort. “I enjoy it. Some of these things would never get done. We make that possible.”
“I’m happy every day,” said Ramone Aviles. “I like helping people and getting out of the jail.”
Inmate Alex Whitney concurred, adding, “It is an opportunity to get out, be productive and give back.”
Auburn Fire and Rescue Department Lieutenant Justin Brigham, who has worked with the inmate crews more than once, said that he found the inmates generally hard working and affable. “These guys come in and they are very polite,” Brigham said.
“I sat down and had lunch with them and they are great to talk to.” According to Evangelidis, the amount of inmates involved in the Community Service Program ha tripled since 2010. In order to receive the services of the Sheriff’s Office Community Service Program, municipalities or non-profit organizations simply have to write to Evangelidis’ office and request help.
“The towns and organizations obviously benefit a great deal,” Evangelidis said. “[And] the inmates enjoy being in the pro- gram. Ultimately it is a win-win.”
For more information about the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office Community Service Program visit www.worcestercountysheriff.com.
Oct 30, 2013
From left, Sgt. Thomas Chabot and Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis
share a moment with K-9 Nikita in this January file photo.
News Staff Writer
Ashburnham – A narcotics dog at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department is about to get his moment in the spotlight.
Nikita, a 11/2-year-old Labrador-Terrier mix, was donated to the sheriff’s department from the Sterling Animal Shelter. He currently lives with his handler, Sgt. Thomas Chabot, in Ashburnham.
Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis had a few options for replacing K-9s on the force who were retiring. He became aware that many newer drug-sniffing dogs in the area are also shelter dogs.
“I’ve personally adopted two shelter dogs, so for me, it was a good choice,” he said. “I had Sgt. Chabot go down to the Sterling Animal Shelter and look at all the candidates, and the second dog he saw was Nikita. He had all of the attributes we needed.”
Nikita provides a deterrent, since he is so well-trained he can sniff out narcotics with little scent, such as prescription drugs. That is a current focus for the sheriff’s department.
“He has found everything from heroin to Subocoxone,” said Mr. Evangelidis. “We can run him up and down the cell blocks as well as the mail room, and he can find anything.”
The sheriff said Nikita’s size is a unique and beneficial factor for the department.
“He’s not the usual big dog,” he said. “He is so small, so he can do things that other narcotics dogs cannot. When we have a motor vehicle search, he can get right under the seats and we can lift him into the trunk. He’s very versatile.”
Mr. Evangelidis said Nikita has been a great addition to the team.
“We are so pleased with his work,” he said. “You expect to see some big German Shepherd, but Nikita is smaller and more maneuverable. He’s not meant to scare people.”
Sgt. Chabot, Nikita’s handler, said he is a great dog, both at home and at work.
“He’s pretty much the same (at home and at work),” said Sgt. Chabot. “He’s always calm and there really are no boundaries. If he’s up on the counter at home, I can’t tell him to get down because that’s what he does for work.”
The 26-pound dog, who is just about full-grown, has another friend at home as well.
“I have been in the K-9 unit for about six years,” said Sgt. Chabot. “I kept my retired dog and was next in line for another.”
Sgt. Chabot chose to keep his retired dog because he feels a personal responsibility to the animals after they retire.
“My last dog put his life on the line for me,” he said. “You have this bond, and for me, I personally feel responsible to give him a place to retire and let him enjoy retirement.”
As for whether or not a dog like Nikita or a German Shepherd is better for the job, Sgt. Chabot said they really do not compare.
“They both have their purpose,” he said. “They both perform differently, but do what they do effectively.”
Sgt. Chabot said working with Nikita was different than working with the German Shepherd, but said it was an easy transition.
“He’s a passive-alert dog,” he said. “When he finds drugs, he sits down and scratches his nose, rather than scratching and barking.”
After hearing about Nikita and his second chance at life, Steven Latham, the producer, director and creator of the PBS series “Shelter Me,” contacted the sheriff’s department.
“I was doing some research online and came across a news article about Nikita,” said Mr. Latham. “The more I dug into the story, the more I realized I found my story and the characters that I wanted to tell my story. For ‘Shelter Me,’ this is the perfect story.”
Mr. Latham, who has three shelter dogs of his own, created the series to shine a positive light on shelter pets.
“What ‘Shelter Me’ focuses on is the joy of animals from shelters,” he said. “I’ve just heard so many negative stories with shelters and the animals, and that just wasn’t my experience at all.”
The episode of “Shelter Me” focusing on Nikita will be the fourth in the series. Two episodes have already aired, and the third will air in February.
Filming for the episode began Thursday and will continue through Saturday. Filming locations for the show include Sutton High School, the Sterling Animal Shelter, the sheriff’s department, the Community Corrections Center in Worcester, the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction and Sgt. Chabot’s home in Ashburnham.
“This is much more than a show,” said Mr. Latham. “The action portion of the project is so important. Providing the public with ways they can help is just as important as telling the story.”
Mr. Latham said many do not realize all the ways in which they can help local shelters without adopting a pet, noting that people can volunteer their time and donate items such as medications, blankets and shampoos.
“People need to realize what they can do,” he said. “People should take pride in their local shelters. Shelters are where families are made.”
As a result of the “Shelter Me” series, Mr. Latham created a website, Shelterme.com, as a way to connect shelter animals with new homes. Currently, the site’s services are only available on the West Coast, but it will soon go nationwide.
The site serves a social media network for shelter pets. Users can go to their local shelters, play with the animals and make a video profile to help them have a better chance of being adopted.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in adoptions already just in Los Angeles,” said Mr. Latham. “Just that act of kindness helps give these animals a chance at a new home.”
Nikita’s episode of “Shelter Me” will air across the country in May 2014.
Oct 28, 2013
10/15/2013 7:31:00 AM
News Staff Writer
GARDNER — Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis recently made a stop at Hillside Garden Apartments on Blanchard Street to visit an on-site inmate work crew.
“As sheriff it is always a pleasure for me to spend time in Gardner and I am thrilled to be here today with the inmate work crew as they assist Gardner’s Housing Authority with some much needed fall clean up of the Hillside Gardens Housing Complex which provides affordable housing for our elderly,” he said. “In addition to recently helping with this very worthy project, our inmate work crews have also been able to complete work at the Gardner VNA, Veterans Homestead, the Highway Department and the local Legion Post, providing Gardner’s community with well over $100,000 in savings. As sheriff I can not think of a better program where both the inmates and the community benefit.”
Since taking office in January 2011, Mr. Evangelidis said he has made efforts to more than triple the size of the Inmate Community Service Program, a move that has allowed budget-strapped communities to save nearly $3.5 million combined. To date, through the initiative, over 1,000 work projects have been completed.
According to Mr. Evangelidis, the program was designed to provide non-violent, non-sex offender individuals with an opportunity to learn job skills and foster a sense of self worth while productively assisting others.
Gardner Housing Authority Director Peter Gogeun said it was an honor to have the most recent crew visit the Chair City.
“Sheriff Evangelidis and the Inmate Community Service Program have been a tremendous partner to Gardner’s Housing Authority,” he said. “During the past week they completed much needed maintenance in all of our units at the Hillside Gardens Housing Complex and also assisted with fall clean up including removing leaves from all of the gutters and raking of all of the grounds. It’s been an honor to have them, they saved us many of thousands of dollars and they did a beautiful job.”