Special to The Herald
NEW BRITAIN - City resident Mia Phinney is attracting a lot of attention for handcrafting dog toys and delivering them to K-9 officers around the state.
The 8-year-old animal lover has accumulated almost 600 followers on Instagram, and is gaining popularity across the country.
The inspiration for her project came after Mia met Berlin Police Officer Aimee Krzykowski at a Hartford Wolfpack game in January. Krzykowski, who is a double cancer survivor, was at the game for a fundraiser in her honor. She was accompanied by her K-9 partner Casner, whom Mia immediately bonded with.
Krzykowski, who has served for 15 years with the Berlin Police Department, said the game was a unique opportunity for Casner to interact with members of the public. For Mia, this interaction wasn’t enough.
Mia and her dad, Denny Phinney, purchased a dog toy for Casner. Unfortunately, when they went to the station to present Casner his toy, he and Krzykowski were out of the office.
“They dropped it off at the station and I wasn’t in. I felt awful,” Krzykowski recalled.
Officer Krzykowski offered an alternative option. She invited Mia to bring Casner another toy, except this time she explained how Mia could make it herself.
A few days later, Mia was back at the station to give Casner his toy.
“‘Cas’ had fun playing with Mia and I have a good feeling she had fun playing with Casner,” Krzykowski said.
This was the first of many toy deliveries for Mia and her dad.
The toys are simple, a lacrosse ball at the end of a rope, but they are vital for the development of police dog training, the officer explained.
These toys appeal to working dogs because “high-drive” dogs require high engagement, Krzykowski said. Where most dogs would prefer treats as a reward, police dogs desire toys.
Mia’s father does the hard work of drilling holes in the lacrosse balls and securing the rope, fielding questions and requests from around the country, and running the Instagram page, “Mia’s Mission.”
The two have made and distributed over a dozen toys in total, and have made deliveries to Wilton, Farmington, Southington, New Haven, Portland, Southbury, Berlin, and Wethersfield, with trips to Middletown, East Lyme, Newtown, and Fairfield in the works. Mia has had the privilege of meeting 10 canine officers, getting the chance to play with each one.
They don’t plan on stopping.
“We’re going to go until Mia stops wanting to do it,” Phinney said. “But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
The Phinneys have four dogs and four cats of their own at home, which has inspired Mia’s intense love for animals, and is a driving factor in Mia’s mission.
Mia’s father, who as an EMT is an emergency responder himself, says there is another factor involved.
“Mia loves animals, and has a strong respect for first responders,” Phinney said. “She’s grown up with a respect knowing what everyone does.”
Mia wants to be a police officer when she grows up.
Mia’s popularity is growing. Phinney has received requests from departments in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Colorado, among others.
He has received help from near and far as well.
Play It Again Sports in Southington donated three dozen lacrosse balls when they heard about the campaign. That donation was followed by a gift of 100 feet of rope from a firefighter couple from Maryland.
With more supplies coming in, there is more opportunity for Mia to take part in her favorite part of the whole project.
“My favorite part is visiting the dogs because I love dogs,” Mia said.
For more information, or to follow their story, visit Mia’s Instagram account at MiasMission19 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.