UNH Welcomes First K-9 Officer
UNH Welcomes First K-9 Officer

by Karen Grava
Director of Media Relations

One of the newest members of the UNH staff has been so enthusiastically greeted by students that she’s been invited to spend the night in the residence halls. Students can’t keep their hands off her, and in only minutes, many declare their love for her.

Meet Nia, a 55-pound, seven-year-old Golden Labrador Retriever who loves the attention – and especially belly rubs. She is UNH’s first K-9 officer.

Nia with campus police officer Jodi Novella.

Nia joins a few other campus police dogs in Connecticut – Yale and UConn also use them. Nia was hired along with her partner, Jodi Novella. Both recently retired from the New Haven police force.

“Having a dog will enhance student engagement with the police department,” said Donald Parker, deputy police chief.  “Nia will help with police and community relations and provide an educational experience for students on campus. She will also break down any negative images of K-9 dogs, especially since she has been trained as a “non-bite dog.”

“Nia is really a comfort dog,” Novella said. “She gives hugs and kisses to many students who miss their own dogs.”

Originally trained to be a seeing-eye dog, Nia was disqualified after she came down with a series of ear infections that would have been difficult for a blind person to handle. She was retrained in 2008 by the Connecticut State Police, who also trained Novella about laws governing K-9 police officers.

Although Nia is trained in narcotics detection, that is not her primary function at UNH. She will be used for that purpose only under very limited circumstances. Her role at the University is to comfort students, train criminal justice students regarding the duties of K-9 officers and build a connection between UNH police and the student body.

When Novella retired from the New Haven police force, she was allowed to keep Nia. But seven-year old Nia was very depressed and missed working. Now when she sees Novella putting on her uniform, she wags her tail and waits by the door. “Nia really likes having a purpose in life,” said Novella, who works three nights a week.

Novella, who worked her way from a dispatcher to a police officer, considers having a K-9 partner a privilege. She also loves dogs, and Nia has two companions at Novella’s home – a 100-pound German Shepherd Nia likes to tease and a mixed-breed Lab rescue dog that Nia is helping to train.

While Nia has not been permitted to do any sleepovers, there is no limit on petting.

“She thinks the best job is to walk around campus and greet the students,” said Novella.

Check out more photos of UNH's new K-9 officer.

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