Merrimack Crimeline hosts annual magic show, a fundraiser for K-9 program at police department

agic was in the air at the sixth annual Magic Show sponsored by Merrimack Crimeline in support of the K-9 program at the Merrimack Police Department, which took place April 12, at American Legion Post 98, 43 Baboosic Lake Road.

Hot dogs, chilled sodas, dozens of raffle prizes, a demonstration of police-dog prowess by K-9 dog, Gunny, and feats of prestidigitation from nearly a dozen members of the Granite State Conjurors, a state-wide association of around 15 magicians, amazed young and old.

Families with children giddy in their expectation to be confounded by disappearing coins, flowers plucked out of thin air and silken scarves pulled from the dark space inside a hat, gathered in the spacious function hall on the second floor of the building. The magicians, men and women from many communities, delivered their performances on a raised stage back-dropped by a velvety curtain of black fabric surrounded by purple drapery.

Outdoors, Gunny, the town’s police dog since 2009, and his handler, Officer Greg Walters, took the stage at noon. The officer was assisted by his son, Greg Jr., a sophomore at Merrimack High, who managed the placement of several props – packets of contraband – used in the dog’s show of hide-the-drugs and seek.

Gunny, a six-year-old, 78-pound, male German shepherd, performed his own feats of skill before a large crowd of parents, grandparents, teens, children and others seated on bleachers alongside the baseball field adjacent to the American Legion’s main building.

Officer Bill Vandersyde played the part of a bad guy, who was quickly subdued by Gunny. The dog took orders without hesitation when various commands were voiced by Officer Walters. Vandersyde early on donned a protective suit and a durable sling that covered one arm with heavily padded fabric. The arm protection was further enhanced by a base made of a rigid composite impervious to punctures from the dog’s biting teeth or the crushing effect the dog’s jaws can deliver. According to Walters, Gunny’s bite can apply around 450 pounds of pressure per square inch.

Walters said Merrimack Crimeline, a not-for-profit organization, offers citizens a way to call into the police department their tips and details about crimes. The caller remains anonymous. There is no “Caller-ID” system on the 24-hour Crimeline, 424-2424. Instead, when the Crimeline telephone is answered at the police station, the caller receives from the police dispatcher a code number. The code number enables the caller to track the outcome of the case or offer additional information about the reported incident at a later date. Cash rewards are paid upon conviction. They are paid in cash to make certain there is full anonymity.

Currently, there are listed on the Merrimack Crimeline website,, more than a dozen unsolved crimes. They range from residential burglaries to car break-ins to construction site thefts. Business burglaries are detailed there, including incidents at ATC Power Supply, Tire Town, Jeans Auto, Northeast Ice Cream and McDonalds. Each incident is recapped on the site. Anyone with information, submitted anonymously, may be in line for a cash reward.

“Funds for the canine program all come through donations,” Walters said. “We’re thankful for them.”

Walters said that Gunny’s presence calls for no tax dollars thanks to the donations from Crimeline events and from other supporters. The highly trained dog is adept at locating suspects in hiding, tracking suspects fleeing on foot from a scene and recovering evidence or articles hidden from view during a crime. Gunny also is trained in crowd control and in identifying almost a dozen narcotics – marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy and more.

Several exercises were conducted outdoors during the demonstration. Gunny correctly identified various drugs hidden beneath a row of containers. He jumped up and clenched teeth upon Vandersyde’s arm and let go only upon command from Walters. In another show of the dog’s talent, Vandersyde ran as fast as he could across the baseball field. Gunny, upon command from Walters, chased the fleeing man and caught up to him in a flash. The pair was a blur of fur, teeth and protective gear until a halt to the attack upon Vandersyde was called.

Vanderyde said a criminal would have little chance of escape if Gunny was in the vicinity.

“I would think he’s a pretty strong deterrent,” Vandersyde said, preparing for another demonstration.

Judy Eriksen, president of the Merrimack Crimeline Committee, said that with this year’s infusion of funds – $1,354 raised for the canine program at the Merrimack Police Department – the total raised since 2009 is more than $9,671. She thanked everyone for attending and also expressed gratitude for the donated raffle prizes contributed by many of the town’s businesses. Gift certificates, coupons for pizzas, vouchers for haircuts and tickets to sports events went home with the luckiest of the raffle’s ticket holders.

“The magic show is always a family event – that’s what it’s for,” Ericksen said. “The money we make goes to the canine program. Gunny is free to the taxpayers.”

Joe Caulfield, of Lyndeborough, is the president of the Granite State Conjurers, and regional vice-president for the Society of American Magicians, a group with around 3,000 members. He called magic both an entertainment and an art.

“Magic is broad enough that there’s many ways of performing it,” Caulfield said. “There is comedy magic, children’s magic and mystery performance magic – that’s magic as if it’s storytelling. There are many forms.”

It’s a sure bet that the audience went home talking about the marvels they saw that day. The magic tricks were astounding. The magicians each had a specialty. The police dog, Gunny, showed what training from an expert handler can achieve in his performance with officers Walters and Vandersyde. Each person in the audience had a favorite entertainment.

“That dog was so cool,” Zachary Tiller, 4, a Merrimack preschooler said. “He was so fast.”

For more information on the Merrimack Crimeline program, visit merrimack
. The Merrimack Crimeline’s anonymous tip line is 424-2424 and available around the clock.