SOMERVILLE, NJ – Author Jim Wiater came up with the story by chance. He was multi-tasking – driving the car and entertaining his young daughters, Nikki and Kaci with a story that he made up as he drove.
Over the years, he expanded and refined the story line, sat down, and began to write. Finally, last year, he self-published “The Adventures of Solo, The Big Dog,”nearly 12 years after the story was first conceived, inspired by the bravery of a real-life K9.
It is a children’s book, about a K9 police dog, but it goes beyond teaching children value lessons - “The Adventures of Solo, The Big Dog” helps to protect other K9s on the job.
Proceeds from the sale of each book are used to underwrite the expense of body armor for K9s, as well as other customized K9 equipment. It takes about 60 books to buy a custom K9 vest, according to Wiater.
“Actually, make that 59, I sold one yesterday,” Wiater said Wednesday.
Each vest is custom fit after the dog has been measured to ensure maximum comfort during an 8- 10- or 12-hour shift, he said.
Next in line for a fitted armor vest is K9 Basilone, a 14-month-old black and brown German Shepherd, the newest officer in the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department, trained in article search and tracking.
Born in January, 2016 in the Slovak Republic, Basilone came to America one year later and was assigned to Somerset County Sheriff’s K9 Officer Shannon DiNella on March 9.
He completed training at the Union County K9 Academy with DiNella on May 11.
DiNella was paired with Basilone after an extensive application process and evaluation by her superior officers.
As a member of the 4H “Woof Dog Club,” she had spent several years working with and training dogs in obedience and agility; she also competed as a handler at American Kennel club shows.
She said there was “instant chemistry” with her new partner.
“The other officers in the academy used to make fun of me, that the dog had big crush on me,” DiNella said. He rarely needed to be corrected during his training.
“This dog would heel by my side, gaze up into my eyes for my approval; it’s as if he were saying ‘Aren’t you proud of me?’ ’’ she said.
There are three other K9s in the Sheriff’s Department.
K9 Diesel is paired with Sheriff Officer Al Bauer; Diesel is trained for tracking and explosives detection. Bauer also is paired with K9 Billy, trained for arson investigations.
Sheriff Officer Dave Daneker partners with K9 Apex, trained to detect narcotics.
All K9s and their partners are on call 24/7, 365 days a year and work with local police departments throughout Somerset County and beyond.
K9 Basilone, as do the other dogs, returns home with their partners once their shift is completed.
K9 Basilone is named in honor of USMC Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone who was killed in action during World War II and buried in Arlington National Cemetery. A resident of Raritan, Basilone received the Medal of Honor at the battle of Guadalcanal and the Navy Cross for his valor during the battle of Iwo Jima, where he was killed. Basilone is the only Marine to receive both honors during World War II.
K9 Basilone, accompanied by DiNella, the other K9s and their partners, was introduced at a Raritan Borough Council meeting in May.
Since publication in January, 750 copies of the book have been sold; proceeds have purchased K-9 body armor for three other dogs, as well as a K9 first aid field trauma kits, a K9 cooling vest, and Pet Oxygen Mask kits requested by local police departments, prosecutor and sheriff offices in New Jersey, according to Wiater.
A resident of Millstone in Monmouth County, Wiater is the carpentry teacher at Piscataway Vo-Tech.
The real life K9 Solo was killed in the line of duty in Bradley Beach in 1998. Touched by the story of the dog’s bravery, Wiater told a gathering of the New Jersey State PBA that he made a promise to himself then that he would purchase a bullet proof vest for a K9 officer.
He's now working on Number Four, and intends to grow that number.
The author encourages other police agencies to request K9 armor or other equipment; requests are handled on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.
More information can be found online at BigDogBooks.net and at GoFundMe, Friends of Solo/K9 equipment on Facebook.