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Fundraiser set to help local K-9 programs

Kayla Strayer/Daily Globe Nobles County Sheriff's Office K-9 Deputy Dustin Roemeling, left, and Worthington Police Sergeant Brett Wiltrout stand with their K-9s Chase and Thor.

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington Masonic Lodge will be hosting a pancake breakfast from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the Elks Lodge to raise funds for the Worthington Police Department and Nobles County Sheriff's Office K-9 programs.

The police department currently has two K-9s, Thor and Laika, and the sheriff's department has one K-9, Chase.

K-9 Deputy Dustin Roemeling, Chase's handler, said Chase will need to retire within a couple of months.

Laika will retire within a few years, Thor's handler Sergeant Brett Wiltrout said.

Masonic member Becky Schilling, who's helping organize the fundraiser, said after the food costs, all proceeds will be evenly split between the two K-9 programs.

"We felt that we needed to do something visible in our community to make it better," Schilling said.

She said the K-9 handlers visited the Masonic Lodge and shared information about the program and the need to raise funds.

"When we learned how expensive that process is, we just thought that we could expedite getting the new dogs in place," Schilling said.

Wiltrout said each K-9 is about $30,000 because along with the dogs, specific cars must be purchased to accommodate the K-9s. The cars have kennels in the back, so the K-9 vehicles are not used to transport suspects. He said the K-9s are paid for mainly by fundraisers, private donors and businesses.

"It's an astronomical amount of money and ironic that both need new dogs at this point," Schilling said. "The more I find out about their wisdom and the bond they have with these officers, the more impressed I am with the whole program."

Wiltrout said the K-9 pro-gram has been in Worthington for more than 20 years. He said each K-9 can work for about 8-10 years.

"There is so much wear and tear on them because they train so much," Wiltrout said. "They work 10 hours and turn-around shifts, so their food schedule and down time is always changing. Just like it's hard on police officers, it's hard on a dog.

"It costs a lot of money, but these dogs can provide finances themselves through narcotic and money seizures,"

The departments don't seek to make money with the dogs, Wiltrout said, but added they can be a financial asset.

"My dog was involved with a sniff that we found a large sum of money in," Wiltrout said. "We get part of that, which was more than what he cost."

Both officers said the K-9s are good location tools, but have other benefits as well.

"They are for finding drugs and tracking down criminals and lost people, but are also good public relations tools," Roemeling said. "We do a lot of programs such as D.A.R.E. graduations and Boy Scout presentations in the county."

Schilling added the dogs can do things humans can't, which means more protection for the community.

"I was extremely impressed by the ability these animals have, and the bond with their handlers," she said. "It's just phenomenal."

The K-9s are primarily locating tools, but Wiltrout said they will bite as a last ditch effort.

"Just announcing the dog's presence will prevent fighting," Roemeling said. "People give up when there's a dog present. As soon as they hear or see the dog they back down quicker."

Wiltrout said the interstates are a popular means of trafficking narcotics.

"With Highway 60 being a four lane now, there's going to be a lot of drug trafficking," Wiltrout said. "These dogs are out there helping the task force (find the drugs)."

The organizers said there is no specific goal amount for the fundraiser, but anything helps.

"People love to see the dogs and they want to feel part of the fundraising goal," Wiltrout said. "We've had people give $5, and we're just as grateful as (we are for) a check for $1,000."

Most of the K-9s are German Shepherd's that are first trained overseas. The handlers get the K-9s when they are a year old, after additional training in the states.

Wiltrout said the K-9s can only work with their specific handlers in case the handlers have to testify in court regarding their K-9s. For this reason, the K-9 officers are on call 24 hours a day.

After they retire, the K-9s will continue living with their handlers.

"Mine will just stay at my house, it would be too hard to part with him," Roemeling said.

"I'm with him probably 22 to 23 hours every day, 10 hours in the squad car every night, and then he's with me non-stop at home," Roemeling said. "People that have dogs can kind of relate, but not really because they don't spend that much time with a dog."

The officers agreed all three K-9s are needed.

"We stay plenty busy, so there's a need to have a dog on the day shift and night shift," Roemeling said.

Normally, money raised by the local Masonic Lodge goes toward cancer programs and a children's hospital in the Twin Cities, Schilling said.

"Even though we do a lot of good for people state wide, we felt it was important that we do something locally," she said. "That's why we looked at this as one of the (local) projects."

She said the breakfast will bring members from all over southwest Minnesota, including those from Windom, Slayton, Fulda and Luverne.

"We're thrilled to be able to do this and hope people will turn out," Schilling said. "We really hope people will support it because it's a way to make our community a safer place."

Wiltrout said they will probably have more fund-raisers next year, and anyone wanting more information regarding the program and donations may come out and talk to them.

While the officers are looking forward to bringing the K-9s to the event, for safety reasons they said it's important to ask before petting the dogs.

"Dogs are dogs, so don't just sneak up (and pet them)," Wiltrout said.

In their downtime, the officers said the K-9s get to be normal dogs, doing things like playing and swimming in the lake.

"There's a bond between a handler and a dog that you don't get anywhere else," Wiltrout said.

"We build up an extremely close bond," Roemeling agreed. "Being able to patrol with your best friend every single night, that's what makes it worth it."

Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.

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