The unveiling of the Arizona Police K-9 Memorial in April of 2006 must have been an emotional moment for all the K-9 officers in attendance.
“Throughout the state, we have a very active Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Association (ALECA),” says Owen Keefe, who has recently retired from the Scottsdale Police Force where he spent 23 years in the K-9 division. “It was important to us to have a way to memorialize the dogs who have given their lives in the line of duty.”
Today the memorial makes its permanent home in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix, a two-square block park, right next to the State Capitol Museum where tourists and state workers stroll. It is in an important place. The K-9 Memorial is near a memorial to fallen Peace Officers, and the park itself is the setting for many other vital memorials—for those who fought in Vietnam, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and Desert Storm.
Because of its prominent placement, the monument was brought to my attention by a reader who had seen it while visiting her daughter in Phoenix. The daughter, who works in the judicial building nearby, was kind enough to return to take photographs for us.
In doing some research on the memorial, I soon saw that the memorial is just one of many ways that the Arizona police and its private citizens has set about to honor its K-9 Corps. My guess is they lead the country in their efforts to care for and to honor the canines who have served with them.
“Now that I have retired, I have had time to travel to consult with other states about their canine units, and I will say that I think Arizona is in the forefront of keeping the animals who work alongside us front and center.”
Canines sense of smell, their alertness, and their speed and strength make them very worth allies in any military or police unit. It is to Arizona’s credit that they have found so many ways to acknowledge the canine contribution to police work in their state. Here’s a little of what I learned from reading through the Memorial website links:
The most important link, of course is the link to “Fallen Partners.” Here are stories from around the state of dogs who have served in the canine corps. Many have died in the line of service.
In reading the profiles, one gains an understanding of the work performed by the dogs and the dangers involved. The first dog mentioned, Baloo, died in 2008 when searching an area for suspects. He was hurt in a fall during the chase, and despite being rushed to the First Regional Animal Hospital the doctors were unable to save him.
Reading the stories is best done in small doses, but they give a vivid sense of the work—from sentry duty to drug and bomb-sniffing to pursuit of the “bad guys,” and a reader gains a sense of the loss felt by the handler. Many of the dogs live with the handler and his or her family.
Public Invited to Observe
Elsewhere on the web, I found a description of a program that is headed by Owen Keefe. Held in April, the ”Desert Dog Police K-9 Trials” are free and open to the public. Keefe notes that last year the Scottsdale stadium where the event is held was filled to capacity. These trials offer an opportunity for handlers and dogs to complete in challenges such as Handler Protection, Tactical Building Search, Ability/Obstacle Course, Area Search, and Narcotic and Explosives Search.
The event receives no public funding so costs are paid by donations and ad sales in the program. Keefe notes that if there is money left over after expenses, the money is split with an animal organization that has been specified ahead of time.
Protecting Those in Active Service
Another impressive organization I found was the K-9 Connection in Arizona. It was formed in 1999 by Shari Norton, who found that the police force did not always have protective vests for all animals. (On a dog, the vests would not be worn every day but could be extremely useful if the dog was accompanying an officer in a threatening situation.)
Norton set out to raise private funds for vests, and at this point, they have paid for more than 100 protective dog vests. Her website notes that if the suit makes the man, then “the vest makes the dog.”
Caring for those in Retirement
In further exploring, I found a site for “retired paws” in Arizona. Most of the animals seem to have homes, but like most older animals, many need medication. The site asks for donations to help offset the costs of the animals medical care.