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Donation bolsters Canton’s Community Service Dog program

By John Fitts 

Staff Writer

Standing, from left, are Canton Police Chief Christopher Arciero, Hometown Foundation Events and Marketing Manager Meghan Sullivan, North East Expos, Inc. owner and Canton resident Kristie Gonsalves, Hometown Foundation Program Development coordinator Anna-Maria Lee and Capt. Andrew Schiffer. Kneeling are Leo, and Officer Jonathan Phelps.

CANTON –  The Hometown Foundation and Canton-based North East Expos presented the Canton Police Department with a $5,500 donation on May 21 to help bolster the department’s Community Service Dog Program. 

Specifically, the funds will help cover the costs of outfitting a cruiser for the dog at the center of the program - Leo (Named after Law Enforcement Officer). 

Leo came to the department in July of 2023 and was fostered by Officer Jonathan Phelps, who quickly realized that the lab’s demeanor made him a good candidate for a Community Service Dog. In September of last year, the Board of Selectmen approved the program, provided it was funded by donations. The department set a goal of $45,000 over three years, estimating a cost of 20,000 for the first year and approximately $11,000 per year. 

However, the cruiser modification for Leo did run a little more than the expected and the donation will help cover it.

“The cost for the extra items for the K9 cruiser were upward of $12,000 more than a standard cruiser,” said Capt. Andrew Schiffer. “The donation from Hometown and North East Expos, as well as many other citizen and business donors has made that possible.” 

The cruiser modifications provide many features to keep Leo safe. 

“In the cruiser, there is a special pod that creates a place for Leo to rest, stretch out at times, cool down or warm up depending on the weather, and to be safe as he and Jon drive about on patrol, emergency, and community service details,” Schiffer told The valley Press. 

He noted that there is an independent temperature control system for Leo and an alarm system that alerts Phelps via text or call if the car temperatures get too warm or too cold for Leo. At the same time, other automatic features, such as the lowering of windows and an audible “barking” sound also come into play if the vehicle temperatures get dangerously hot or cold. 

“When the Canton Police Department reached out to the Hometown Foundation, Inc. to help fund the outfitting of the K-9 vehicle we knew we had to help,” said Meghan Sullivan, the organization’s Events and Marketing Manager. “Hearing about his early days as a rescue, how Officer Phelps realized his potential and learning about how important he has become to the community makes this donation all the more impactful. Thank you to local Canton business, North East Expos for helping us reach their goal!”

North East Expos Inc., which runs events such as the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show and Connecticut Fishing and Outdoor Show, is run by Canton resident Kristie Gonsalves. 

Leo in his special pod in the back of a cruiser used by Officer Jonathan Phelps.

An animal lover herself, Gonsalves has trained dogs to be part of search and rescue teams and prior to Leo coming to the department, she had the idea to raise puppies and offer one to the department for a K-9 program. 

While she was envisioning a more traditional K-9 program and still plans to at least offer a dog when she does commence the project, Gonsalves is also a firm supporter of in the Community Service program. 

“I feel it’s an icebreaker,” she said. 

Police certainly agree. While Deborah Clark of K9 Search and Rescue is offering discounted training and working with Phelps to get Leo formally certified, he’s already been a big hit in town.

Police have told stories of people who have come to the station with distressing situations and are greatly comforted spending time with Leo. 

And while Leo doesn’t go on the calls that are potentially dangerous, he and Phelps are regularly seen at community events and local schools. Phelps said Leo really opens doors and helps police connect with the kids and residents as a whole. It’s not unusual to have kids chant his name wherever he goes. 

“It’s amazing watching what he can actually do for this community,” Phelps said. 

Those who want to make a donation to the program, can visit

People can also donate, purchase shirts or just follow along at Leo_Legitimus on Instagram and @leo.legitimus on Facebook.


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