By Teresa Varley
Ben Roethlisberger was surrounded on Wednesday by the best protection the quarterback will receive all season.
Nothing against his offensive linemen, but the protection came from Torro and Atos, two K-9 Unit City of Pittsburgh Police Dogs that were purchased through a grant provided by The Ben Roethlisberger Foundation.
As Roethlisberger announced the grants to the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and other local municipalities, the dogs stood on either side with their handlers, serving as an intimidating force.
"I have talked to some officers that are friends and they have said they would rather have a dog as a partner than a person because they are more dependable sometimes," said a smiling Roethlisberger. "You see a dog out there in action and it's pretty impressive."
The grants are a continuation of a program Roethlisberger introduced during the season where he provided a grant to a police or fire departments in every city where the Steelers played last season. He also provided a grant based on each Steelers home game, with it going to the local police departments.
"We are grateful for his contribution to the City of Pittsburgh," said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. "When we look at the issues facing our city, crime is one of the main issues. Being able to have an active police force with K-9 dogs is very important. For Ben to step up like he has is critically important. He has continued the legacy of the Pittsburgh Steelers in giving back to the community. This is something he doesn't have to do but he does it anyway."
The idea for providing the grants for the dogs stemmed from a K-9 dog being shot in killed in Roethlisberger's hometown of Findlay, Ohio two years ago. He stepped in and provided the resources for the department to purchase another dog. His love of dogs was also a driving factor, along with his respect for what law enforcement does.
"I am lucky I am able to do this," said Roethlisberger, who would like to make the program a yearly endeavor. "I feel fortunate to be able to give back in many ways. I think the police forces are very underappreciated in what they do. They are not thanked enough. To be able to do this is a thank you from me."
Roethlisberger and his father Ken reviewed all of the applications that came in for the grants from different police departments and along with several others made the decisions on the grants based on overall need. With the help of key sponsors the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, Cochran Motors and Highmark, Inc., the funds were provided to many needy municipalities.
"If it wasn't for this grant we wouldn't be getting a K-9," said Chief Vernon Barkley from Heidelberg Borough Police Department. "Heidelberg is growing to a degree. We have increased our drug arrests as it is now, but we can make a lot more with a K-9. We also have an older population and a lot of times those people wander away and we can use it for tracking. It's also going to be an officer safety factor."
Roethlisberger's generosity was definitely felt by all of the police departments who are recipients of the grants, especially the City of Pittsburgh.
"Ben has stepped forward," said Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper, who was among those looking on while a demonstration of the dog's skills took place. "It's an expensive tool. A lot of training goes into these dogs. When we have someone such as Ben help absorb the cost and pay for the dogs it's a very good partnership.
"Ben shining a light on it and showing what a valuable asset they are to the department is very critical."