LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - Politicization of K-9 issue offends dog handler

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In 1999, I attended the Bob Eden police K9 School in Canada. I trained for three months at this world-class facility. Eden selected 20 of the most talented dogs from police kennels in Europe. The best in class was my new partner, K-9 Zorro.

As a K9 unit, we received tremendous support from the Sheriff's Office administration and this community. When Zorro was injured toward the end of his career, the office paid for his medical costs from the existing K-9 budget. Zorro's condition was stabilized but the injury shortened his public service.

He served faithfully and was allowed a short time to relax and be a family member. K-9 Zorro passed away in April of this year. Honestly, the saddest day of my life.

In the last two sheriff's debates, Bill White's opponent has criticized the Sheriff's Office for providing the medical costs for Zorro. The inference was that I should have incurred the cost personally. The opponent has stated that his top priority is restoring the county's K-9 unit.

I'm offended this issue has been politicized. The number one consideration when fielding a K-9 team is commitment. The Sheriff's Office has continued to fund the position every year since Zorro's retirement.

We have not located a handler candidate with the interest and commitment level necessary to reinstate the program. It is an eight- to 10-year commitment. It is expensive and has additional liability considerations.

A K-9 program cannot exist through grants and donations alone. In the past, we have humbly received both. These dogs are worth their weight in gold. The apprehension rate on a fleeing suspect, (track or area search) is less than 30 percent. Add a K-9 unit and the apprehension rate increases to nearly 80 percent. They are faster, safer and more efficient. But they are expensive.

The Garcia decision states that a K-9 handler must be compensated one hour everyday for off-duty care and maintenance of a police dog. Start-up costs include the K-9, lodging, training, equipment, and handler compensation. First-year costs are approximately $35,000. Annual costs are approximately $20,000.

The candidate who prevails during the sheriff's election has a tremendous responsibility to the public. He has to convince his staff that the actions during the race were true, honest and worthy of the title, "chief law enforcement officer." I believe our community has all the information necessary to elect our next sheriff. Please join me in electing Bill White, Walla Walla County sheriff.

Tom Cooper
Walla Walla

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