$14,000 donation helps bring K-9 Unit to Greendale

Published on: 2/10/2013

Greendale - The Police Department is set to hire a new police officer. Applicants need not apply unless they're knee-high, four-legged and can sit, speak and roll over.

The MECA Wisconsin Police Canine Vest Foundation, along with the Stan Lee Kass K-9 Fund, presented a $14,000 check to the department for its new K-9 Unit Tuesday night at the Village Board meeting.

The foundation was established by Marla Lichtenberger, owner of the Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals, a 24/7 animal emergency facility in Greenfield. The nonprofit purchases police dogs and aims to equip every Wisconsin police dog with a bullet-resistant and stab-proof vest.

Protective vests

'Our police dogs are the first ones sent into harm's way,' Lichtenberger said. 'They need the same protection their human officers have when risking their lives to save ours.'

Wisconsin has more than 235 canine officers and most of them do not have vest protection, according to MECA's website.

Tim and Sue Hill of Big Bend donated an additional $850 to vest Greendale's police dog. The dog will wear the six-pound vest, complete with a Velcro badge, during high risk enforcement situations.

Lt. Jeff Zainer said the K-9 Unit will help protect and serve the community by conducting building searches, tracking suspects, deterring crime, locating missing persons and providing anti-drug education. In the past, the department relied on the Milwaukee County Sheriff or neighboring agencies for canine services.

Zainer said the borrowing system worked but was not ideal, especially during traffic violation stops.

The handler

Officer Tony Fitzgerald was selected to be the department's dog handler.

'This is something that I have been waiting to have here since I got hired,' Fitzgerald said at Tuesday's Village Board meeting.

The dog will go to work with Fitzgerald during the day and return home with him each night. Fitzgerald's wife and four young boys are excited for the addition to their family. Unfortunately for Fitzgerald's boys, they will not be able to name the dog. Instead, the department will hold a contest and invite the community to submit names.

In early April, the department will send Fitzgerald to select the dog and undergo a six-week training program at Southern Police Canine in Spring Hope, North Carolina. Mark Mills, owner of Southern Police Canine, said he receives Belgian malinois and German shepherd dogs each month from Holland, and it's important for the officer and the dog to bond.

'We try to match the personality of the dog to that of the officers,' Mills said. 'So if the handler is easygoing, we try to match him with an easygoing dog.'

The Greendale Police Department still needs to add costly equipment to the K-9 Unit's patrol car. Zainer said community members can donate to the department's K-9 Fund with BMO Harris Bank in Greendale. People can also make checks payable to the Greendale Police Department K-9 Fund.

'The department is trying to raise the funds at no cost the Village,' Zainer said. 'We are relying on the generosity of the businesses and the residents because it is something that the whole community can benefit from.'