MTA Police Department K-9 Officer Alison Schmitt and her partner, Mac, a German Shepherd, have their daily routine down pat. Whenever the duo gets ready to search for explosives, she asks Mac, “You want to go to work?” Mac stands up immediately, and then Schmitt tells him, “Seek it out.” He then sniffs out backpacks and suitcases to detect explosives.
“He’s energetic, he’s driven, and that’s what a police dog needs to be,” Schmitt said, who graduated from the MTA PD’s explosive detection program with Mac on Jan. 31.
Schmitt, a third generation cop who grew up in Malverne, had recently completed her four-year mark with the MTA PD, working primarily in the Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. She never had a dog growing up, but when she saw the relationship her boyfriend had with his dog — who is now retired from the MTA’s K-9 unit — she wanted to build a similar bond.
“Being the first K-9 handler in my family is a whole new experience for all of us,” Schmitt said, “so having my boyfriend and his retired dog at home has helped to guide us in the right direction.”
Schmitt and Mac began training in the MTA’s 12-week explosive detection course in September, upstate in Stormville. “The first week we got the dogs, they were all pretty wild,” Schmitt said. “Once I met Mac, we just hit it off. Our connection was there and our personalities matched.”
The duo trains 10 minutes each day, and have lived with each other ever since the two were paired together. “He’s not only my dog at home, he’s my partner in my career,” she said. “We’re with each other 24 hours every day … we’ve become best friends.”
A tradition of the MTA PD’s K-9 Unit, dogs are named in honor of fallen police officers, firefighters and members of the United States Armed Services. Schmitt chose to name Mac after NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, a Malvernite who was known by many for promoting peace and forgiveness after being shot in Central Park in 1986. McDonald became a quadriplegic due to the shooting, and lived for 31 years before he died in January 2017.
“It’s a huge honor and it kind of brings everything home,” Schmitt said. “Once I got accepted to the position, I knew that I wanted to name him after Steven. He’s an inspiration not just for law enforcement, but for everyone. I’m very honored and humbled that his family approved of it.”
Schmitt, 26, said she knew the McDonald family growing up, and recently learned from Malverne Mayor Patti Ann McDonald that Steven grew up with many dogs.
“Just knowing that was very meaningful to me, too” she said. “Just carrying on his legacy and to tell the story of his career … I want Mac to become a part of their life. I hope that they develop a bond with Mac just as I do.”
Schmitt explained that in the few months that she has been with Mac, the two have been inseparable. Having a close relationship and being able to trust Mac at all times, she said, are key components to executing their job.
“That’s one of the biggest aspects of my career,” Schmitt said. “If I didn’t trust him, it would be a bad experience to go out there and look for explosives, which is not an easy task.”
Moving forward, Schmitt said she hopes to compete in the U.S. Police Canine Association explosive trials later this year. She would also like to hold demonstrations for children to educate them about her job.
“A lot of kids walk through Penn Station and they see the dog but they don’t really know what the dog’s there for,” she said. “Like the ad says, ‘If you see something, say something.’ I want to teach children what we’re there to do.”
She added that people should always ask the handler permission to touch the dog, because it might be in “work mode.”