Fairfield County works to save K-9 program
Community members are banding together to make sure the dog days are not over at the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Shortly after Sheriff Dave Phalen announced the department would have to eliminate the K-9 patrol dog program due to a budget shortfall in 2011, area businesses and residents opened their pocketbooks in an effort to keep it alive.
According to Phalen, many from people across Fairfield County have asked how they can help save the K-9 unit.
“The support we have received has been overwhelming,” Phalen said, who added the department is grateful for the response, but surprised by the community’s generosity.
“It’s a very popular program,” said Phalen.
The Sheriff’s Office has had an active K-9 unit for more than 20 years, but it has fallen on financial hard times recently. In 2005, there were three K-9 patrol dog units, but two of those had to be eliminated due to budget cuts.
There is now one patrol dog left, Arno, a five-year-old Belgium Malinois, and there is hope he will not be forced into an early retirement.
“My sense is we will be able to raise enough money to keep it in operation,” said Phalen.
The K-9 unit costs $15,000 annually to run. The expenses include food, veterinary check-ups, recertification and training. Phalen said the training is the most expensive item.
“They have to have so many hours of training a week (approximately 32 hours) year round. They have to be kept active or else it’s just not going to work,” said Phalen.
Deputy John Williamson, the dog’s handler, said Arno is trained to search for illegal narcotics in buildings and vehicles, criminals, lost or missing children and senior citizens, and is even able to climb.
“He’s a multi-purpose patrol dog,” Williamson said proudly.
Some of Arno’s recent accomplishments include finding a burglar hiding in shrubs, and sniffing out heroin in a vehicle.
“Having a dog is a great tool for law enforcement,” Williamson added.
Bill Parker agrees.
As a former dog handler and current president of American Court Services, a company that does drug testing for the courts and all three of Fairfield County’s drug courts, Parker has seen first-hand how important a K-9 unit can be for a police department and the community.
“Fairfield County has a serious problem with drug abuse and trafficking,” Parker said. “We’ve seen an increase in the use of opiates and prescription drugs within the past year.”
Parker said having a K-9 unit helps to not only interrupt the flow of drugs into the area, but also is used to educate children through its community outreach program.
“Drug education is eagerly received when a K-9 unit is on-site,” said Parker.
When Parker heard that the Sheriff’s Office was going to have to cut its K-9 unit, he started the fundraising effort for residents who wanted to help.
He said residents donated at least $2,000 within the first few days of the donation drive.
“I’ve seen the impact drug abuse can have on an individual and their families in Fairfield County and a K-9 unit is one of the most cost effective tools the Sheriff’s Office has to interdict the flow of drugs into the county,” said Parker.
Parker said all of the donated funds received would be placed in the budget to be used specifically for the K-9 program.
As for Arno, he will continue to live with the Williamson family.
“He’s my partner and I hope he’s able to stay on the job with me for another four years,” said Williamson.
To donate to help save the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department K-9 unit, send a check or money order to:
Save the K-9 Fund
P.O. Box 744
Lancaster, OH 43130
Save the K-9 Fund
P.O. Box 159
Lancaster, OH 43130
Those interested may also contact the Fairfield County Foundation at (740) 654-8451 for donation information.