The reassignment of a veteran SEPTA K-9 officer early this month — and the order to surrender his canine partner — seems like vindictiveness by the transit agency.
Abal the SEPTA K-9 has a new handler that he started training with on Monday. He will not be returned to his former handler, SEPTA Police Officer Richard Galanti and his family. "We're not going to force the dog into retirement," says SEPTA assistant general manager Fran Kelly, who tells me he is a dog lover.
A 14-year K-9 officer, Galanti was transferred out of the K-9 unit last week and was forced to surrender 7-year-old Abal, a German shepherd/Akita mix. Galanti had worked and lived with Abal for five years after the dog was donated by a rescue group.
Police officers who are assigned canine partners usually take them home each evening. The pair live together, bond and work as a team, but the animal is the property of the department.
In this case, SEPTA says it wants the dog to continue his working career, which could be until age 10 or 11. The case received national publicity after an online petition to have Abal returned was posted by Galanti's wife, Nicole. There were more than 132,000 signatures as of Monday morning.
Nicole says that Abal was a treasured family pet and that she and others offered to buy a new K-9 to replace Abal, but SEPTA refused. "We have the best interests of the dog at heart," says Kelly.
SEPTA declines to say why Galanti was transferred. In a tweet, however, SEPTA Transit Police Chief Tom Nestel said of Galanti, "He knows why this has happened."
Omari Bervine, president of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police, thinks he knows why it happened. "It was retaliation," he says. SEPTA's Kelly denies that.
Here's the back story according to Bervine, who notes that Galanti was SEPTA's 2012 Officer of the Year and has received two commendations of merit:
In 2015, K-9 officers were directed to update their uniforms and wear the same-style jackets. As a longtime veteran, Galanti's jacket was an older style. He said he would buy a new $150 jacket if SEPTA reimbursed him. SEPTA said no, Galanti refused to buy the jacket and filed a grievance. While the grievance process was unspooling, Galanti was reassigned. Since he was no longer in the K-9 unit, the jacket ceased to be an issue.
Both Galanti and Nestel declined to talk to me.
Two things trouble me here. It appears a veteran cop was transferred because he ticked off his boss. The other thing was separating Abal from his home and family.
"I don't understand why my husband was taken out of K-9, and why the department won't let us buy them a younger dog," Nicole tells me. A number of groups and individuals, including U.S. Rep Bob Brady, have volunteered to raise money for a new dog.
The separation is hard on the family, with Nicole's 10-year-old son, Cole, crying himself to sleep at night, she says. Dog lovers know it is hard on Abal, too. He must be confused after being torn from a loving home and family — from his bed, his toys, the sofa he used to sleep on.
Will he get over it, eventually? Probably.