West Reading Avenues Summer 2021 - 9

next to them as she has been trained to do, and preventing
neighborhood kids from potentially stumbling upon them with
disastrous consequences. Brandon and Zea also participate in a
training group, which includes a K9 from Lower Heidelberg and
several from outside Berks, twice a month to keep their skills
sharp. Interesting fact: Zea is NOT trained in marijuana odor
detection, partly because it is easy enough for the human nose
to detect and partly in preparation for potential legalization;
it would be far more difficult to UNtrain her on a particular
scent than it is to actually train her.
Zea has various vests and equipment that tell her what duties
she will be performing (and it makes me secretly very happy
to know this hard-working girl has a full wardrobe!). She even
has a bullet-proof vest that was donated to the program. On
the day we met, she was wearing her tracking/general duty/
article search vest, a fetching black ensemble. She sat obediently
for photos and listened intently to Brandon's every word. To
my surprise, he gave her commands in Dutch! Her demeanor
was very serious; she was well aware she was on duty. I had
to ask...does Zea ever get to be just a regular pup?
The answer is YES! Although Zea is owned by the borough,
she lives with Brandon and is his responsibility at all times.
That means she is a member of Brandon's pet family, which
includes four cats and a Shibu Inu (think small huskie dog)
named Kuma. She doesn't have much interest in the cats, but
absolutely loves Kuma, whom she especially enjoys carrying
around by the scruff of the neck like a mother hen. She has a
different demeanor when she is off duty but is still high-energy
and very active, and although she doesn't currently live with
any children, she is kid friendly. Great news for Brandon: Zea
is great at finding lost keys! There is no definitive retirement
age for K9s, but Brandon estimates Zea may be able to work
until age 7 or 8, depending on her health and her continued
enjoyment of the work, followed by a relaxing retirement. He
is very observant of her well-being on and off the job; she is
his partner at work, and she is his family at home.
Not every community is fortunate enough to have a K9
program. Currently Reading, Exeter, Lower Heidelberg, the
Berks County Sheriff's Department, and the local State Police
have K9s, in addition to West Reading. The various programs
work together and assist one another as needed, especially since
different dogs may have different strengths and certifications.
Brandon and Zea are technically on-call 24/7 and can be called
to anywhere, but mainly within Berks; the program is partly
funded by grants that require a commitment to serving the
entire county. West Reading's K9 program is also supported
by donations from local businesses. Your Pet Experts at the
Berkshire Mall and Redner's Warehouse Markets donate food
and toys, and Willow Creek Brewery recently held a " Steal
the Glass " fundraiser to benefit West Reading's K9 program.
Now more than ever, Brandon sees Zea as an ambassador
in the community. They have participated in National Night
Out, put on a demo at the Reading Hospital daycare center,
and assisted Lower Heidelberg with a program at Wilson
High School. He doesn't always take Zea to crowded areas
like Penn Avenue because she is still a dog after all, and she
has been trained to protect Brandon. Although Zea is actually
very calm as far as K9s go, he asks that people understand she
is a working dog and refrain from approaching and petting
without asking first. The goal of the K9 program is to keep
people safe.
Brandon has learned so much during these almost 3 years
of working with Zea. He had been around K9s before but
working with one has been amazing. She is next-level intelligent...
smarter than Brandon's previous pets, including a Jack Russell,
a lab, and even an Akita (no disrespect intended - may they
rest in peace). She thinks, learns, and remembers new things
in a matter of minutes. She is a partner as important to him
as any human could be. Thank you, K9 Officer Breitenstein
and Zea, for all you do in our West Reading community and
beyond.
visitwestreading.org
7
http://www.visitwestreading.org

West Reading Avenues Summer 2021

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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/WestReadingAvenues/WestReadingAvenuesNovember18
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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/WestReadingAvenues/WestReadingAvenuesSpring2018
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/WestReadingAvenues/WestReadingAvenuesWinter2017-2
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/WestReadingAvenues/WestReadingAvenuesWinter2017
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/WestReadingAvenues/WestReadingAvenuesFall2017
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