Let me begin by stating how lucky I am to always get to meet, and write about such amazing officers. I always feel blessed to be able to step inside their world for just a minute. They trust me with the good and the bad stories, and I always walk away feeling honored that they were willing to share a piece of their life with me.
I have written about such outstanding men, and, in my opinion, actual heroes. But, this next blog is special to me because, for the first time, I get to write about a “She-ro.” K9 Officer Alison Pollini is a woman who is by far an exceptional officer and a woman of many talents. However, she’s extra special because of her partner Phoenix. A partner who has four legs, and accepts scratches and treats as forms of payment. These two conquer the streets together, and protect and serve as a team.
Let’s dive in and get to know them!
Rowing + Music = Law Enforcement?
Alison Pollini from West Windsor Police Department has dedicated her life to law enforcement for the last 8 ½ years. She is originally from Rhode Island, and then, because of her father’s job transfer, moved to Alabama at the age of 11 for the next 16 years. She eventually moved at the age of 26 to New Jersey to take a job with USRowing. (Now I need to add a little side note here…if you have never rowed I would like to state how hard it actually is. My legs felt like cooked spaghetti after I tried it, so Alison immediately gained my respect). However, she is someone who is talented in numerous ways. She rowed, was going to college for "Music Education", and dabbled in graphic design on the side. Even though she had a very full plate and plenty to do, she had always considered joining the military because she wanted to pursue the military band. Given she was younger when those thoughts occurred, she decided she wasn’t actually ready to pursue that course, because at that time she had a dog, certain responsibilities, and couldn’t just uproot to go to boot camp.
As time passed, she received her degree and again the thought popped up. She decided law enforcement was her new goal. This new path blossomed into a passion, and in making that decision, she expressed that everything came together in that moment. A realization that she was meant to be an officer, but not just any officer… a K9 one.
Not every police department has a K9 division. So, Alison was very excited to join West Windsor because they did have a unit dedicated to that area of expertise. K9 was her calling and she had found her niche. She expressed her interest to pursue that area on day one; however, it wasn’t until 6 years later that she was actually awarded the position. Not long after she was placed and paired with her new partner, Phoenix.
I have to be honest, I was very excited to learn about Alison, but I was ecstatic to learn about Ms. Phoenix. Who doesn’t love hearing about dogs, especially ones in a “uniform”?! (Let’s all take a moment to picture or Google - if you don’t have a five year old forcing you to watch - Chase from Paw Patrol). Most dogs are typically born and raised into being a working dog. They are trained very early on; whereas, Phoenix was unique in the fact that she was from a shelter. Being that she came from a shelter, she hadn’t been trained like other dogs and Alison had her work cut out for her.
Making the decision to join the K9 Unit was the easy part, but the training was where it got hard. Alison and Phoenix had to go into training for three months to receive the tools and preparation needed to be able to go to work.
Most dogs are trained in two disciplines; however, Phoenix is only trained in one. She became a single purpose explosive detective K9. Her expertise lies in sniffing out bombs, arsenal, explosives, etc. Alison explained to me that there are many things K9 dogs can be taught. They can sniff out bombs/explosives, drugs, cancer, diabetes, and even COVID-19. Also, on the other side of the coin, there are the other dogs (or the same one if dual purpose) that are trained as “bite” dogs, or the dogs that can help apprehend a criminal. They are typically called patrol dogs.
Officer Alison and Phoenix
Alison and Phoenix graduated in June of 2021. They have currently been out on the streets for about 8 ½ months. In their short time together, I asked if they had any moments that stood out to her. She told me an exciting story where she exhibited a lot of pride for her new partner.
“We were working the Army-Navy game that was held in New Jersey at MetLife Stadium. There were over 50 dogs there, and every perimeter and vehicle had to be swept. Phoenix was one of those 50, and we were ready and on alert for anything. Everything was going smoothly, but Phoenix all of a sudden sniffed out this certain vehicle, and sat down."
(Now, Alison explained to me that sometimes dogs can be “false.” Which means they may try to get their reward faster by pretending they found a bomb when in reality, there is nothing there at all. They learn that if they “indicate” (which can be sitting, staring, or lying down facing the supposed explosive) they get their reward.)
"However, Phoenix kept going back to this one car. Her training taught her to indicate (sit, stare, lie down, or some other means to draw attention) an odor by sitting. So, we took it seriously. It is our job to locate, and then leave so the bomb squad can come in after to disarm, and take care of the actual threat. It came to light after the search that there were only shotgun shells in the car, not an actual bomb or explosive. So, while it was not the latter, she did indicate there was black powder present, which is an explosive. So, I was very happy for her. It was definitely a proud moment for me.”
Alison relies heavily on her training with Phoenix, and goes to a training course every month when she is actually only required to go to 6 out of 12. Moving forward in our conversation, I discovered that Alison wants to eventually transition Phoenix into being able to track missing people as well. She wants to be able to search and track, as well as being able to indicate bombs and/or explosives, and they have new training (tracking) classes planned for the future. It seems they won’t be slowing down anytime soon!
Down the Road
Alison and Phoenix are a pair that do everything together, and it was obvious that they have a very special bond. I asked about the retirement age of a dog (because I was clueless), and she stated that most sniffers can last about 8-12 years, and at the end of that time, Phoenix would just stay and live on with her. She essentially is her dog for life, and when she eventually has to get another dog, her family would just grow, and get bigger.
Of course, Alison has to have time for herself sometimes, and she needs her breaks to travel, and recharge. She has a network of friends outside of law enforcement, and many hobbies that help her balance her life and work. As I always say, mental health is very important, and Alison takes time to enjoy herself outside of her uniform. She acknowledged that boundaries are important, and it's necessary to sometimes separate work and life.
In speaking with Alison Pollini, it didn’t take me long to realize how dedicated, loyal, smart, and passionate she was. So far, she has had a smooth career and is very optimistic about her future, what she wants to accomplish, and is ready for any challenge ahead. I asked if she had any advice for newcomers considering law enforcement and, in particular, the K9 division. She gave me this advice…
“You have to stay true to yourself. I always do. I lead with who I am, and don’t detour from my moral values or characteristics. I am not one to be inspired by just one person, but instead so many different ones. I learn from each and every individual I admire, and take a bit of that knowledge or experience for my future decisions. You can’t have a big ego coming into this field. You have to be ready to learn and receive in a positive manner. You can’t be sensitive because at the end of the day we are all on the same team, and we will always push each other to be the best. As far as the K9 division, someone really has to want it. It takes up a lot of time, and it’s a lot of hard work, but it is so worth it. It’s the best decision I ever made.”
Alison Pollini is someone who dedicates her life to something, and gives her all. Her kind mannerisms but disciplined character are a perfect match for law enforcement, and the K9 division. I can see why she excels at everything she does, because she never gives half of her energy. She gives 100% in all areas, and pushes herself and Phoenix to be the best. Humble about her accomplishments, yet far from ordinary, Alison Pollini is an officer I am honored to have met. Her story has many chapters that are as of yet, unwritten…however, I know they will be extraordinary because of the diligence she exercises, and the desire she has to conquer whatever comes her way.