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K-9 police benefit from donated support

Local law enforcement — Local nonprofit aims to outfit police dogs in the face of budgetary constraints

Police canines are a useful and often publicly popular part of a police department, but when it comes to the budgeting process they tend to get left behind.

Three years ago Rebecca Wallis opened a canine swim therapy pool called Bailey’s Journey, in Salem. Swim therapy is used in a number of medical treatments for dogs due to its low-impact exercise opportunities.COLIN STAUB - Outfitted - Rebecca Wallis, founder of the Newberg-based Police K-9 Support Fund, presents Newberg-Dundee Police Department officers Steve Schoening and Ryan Simmons with donated first aid kits for Arko and Ruka, the NDPD's two police canines.

About a year after the facility opened a police canine was brought in for treatment for an injury. During the treatment the canine’s handling officer expressed concern for what would happen if the dog were to become too seriously injured for the department to treat given budget constraints, and the canine would have to be retired.

Given the bond that often forms between canine handlers and their dogs, Wallis wanted to offer some kind of assistance — but it’s an expensive endeavor for departments to purchase a police dog, sometimes running between $10,000 and $20,000, she said.

Out of that situation came an organization called Family Pet Partners, also a nonprofit, which has as its mission to keep pets with their families when the owners have fallen on unforeseen circumstances. The effort was extended to police canine handlers as well.

“Just because you’re a police officer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to keep your pet,” she said.

After a subsequent situation with a police canine who was going to be retired due to high medical costs, Wallis and other supporters began focusing efforts on police canine issues in particular.

“We realized we need to advocate for these dogs,” she said.

From that goal came the Police K-9 Support Fund, based in Newberg, which aims to raise funds and disperse them to departments with budgetary constraints.

While Wallis and other advocates hope to see changes in how retiring police dogs are treated in various departments, and ideally to make it possible for canine handlers to adopt their companions when their retirement comes, they also focus on smaller and immediately useful efforts.

About a year into its existence, PKSF has a number of efforts with specific goals for canines. The impetus for PKSF came when Wallis was talking with another police department that had first-aid kits for its canines, and she discovered the NDPD did not yet have similar kits.

She decided to make some kits for NDPD canines Arko and Ruka, which she presented to the canines and handling officers Steve Schoening and Ryan Simmons on Monday morning.

The kits include a range of in-the-field treatment items, from activated charcoal capsules and peroxide that would soak up drugs and cause vomiting in the case of accidental ingestion, liquid bandage and antiseptic ointment, to anti-swelling capsules should the dog swallow a bee.

They also contain heavier duty trauma materials like surgical equipment.

While the canine officers have had smaller first-aid kits until now, the new items offer a more complete range of treatment options in the field. Most importantly, they allow speedy treatment that could make all the difference.

Schoening referenced an incident during which Arko ingested some marijuana while in the field, and there was no peroxide immediately available until returning from the call. If a canine ingested a substance like meth, it could be fatal in a short amount of time.

For canines like Arko, who are often ahead of their handling officer heading into dangerous situations, the kits could be the difference between life and death in terms of on-scene treatment versus waiting until the dog could get to a vet.

“It might not be something you use every day, but when you need it you need it,” Capt. Chris Bolek said.

They are essentially normal first-aid kits, Wallis said, but departments do not generally provide them due to budgetary constraints.

Bolek said the first-aid kits are a good example of a useful service that is often overlooked during the budgeting process, when so many other services are competing for funding. The more immediate needs are prioritized while useful but less pressing services are put on the backburner.

Far from a problem specific to the NDPD, the issue is present in departments statewide and beyond.

“It’s happening everywhere: canines get all their funding from the general budget,” Wallis said.

But what is specific to the NDPD, Wallis explained, is the positive example it sets for other departments in how to treat police dogs.

“Newberg treats their canines like family,” she said.

There is also less bureaucratic red tape involved when donating to the department, Wallis said, which can present a problem in other municipalities.

With the kits now presented to NDPD canines Arko and Ruka, PKSF plans to begin fundraising for stab-proof vests to outfit police canines. In light of the September stabbing death of police canine Ike in Vancouver, the issue carries a certain amount of timeliness.

There are aspirations in the organization’s future as it continues to follows its mission of supporting all things canine in police departments: Wallis hopes to one day extend that into even providing a dog for a department if it wants one but can’t make it happen alone.

“That’s big, but I think we’re going to get there,” she said.

In the meantime, the organization continues to rally for canines, offering assistance through material donations.

For more information, visit www.pksfund.org.