By Jeremy Ratliff, Reporter
Thanks to a concerted effort and an outpouring of support from the local community, the City of Antigo Police Department is on track to have its first ever K9 unit on the road as early as November.
According to Sergeant James Kolpack, the concept of a K9 unit had been a buzz around the department for some time before catching ground this past spring.
“Department administration has been a proponent of a K9 unit for several years now, but felt it wasn’t a role that could just be assigned to an officer. Being a K9 handler is a huge commitment. When an officer becomes a handler, the dog becomes a part of their life and family life. They have a commitment to the dog and their role as a handler, in addition to their regular job duties. It’s a pretty big responsibility.”
The task of assigning an officer was alleviated late last year when Officer Ryan Bula, a three year veteran of the department, presented police chief Eric Roller with a proposal for a K9 unit complete with an itemization of costs.
From there Chief Roller presented the idea to the Antigo City Council and gained approval in the spring of this year.
“We were pretty excited and thankful when the city council approved us to seek funding for the program,” Kolpack adds with a smile. “We couldn’t wait to get started.”
However as the 30 year department veteran is quick to add, a K9 unit is not cheap by any means and the department would be heavily reliant on grass roots fund raising to bring such a unit to the community.
In fact, total cost was estimated to be $30,000.
Included in the cost would be the training of the dog and handler, equipping a vehicle for the unit, kenneling and veterinary care.
“We knew this would require a huge fund raising effort, but we were confident we could partner with our community to make this happen.”
The department’s confidence in its community was soon validated, as donations began to pour in almost immediately.
Former police chief and current mayor Bill Brandt and his wife Julie were just one of the many donors.
“Julie and I care very much about the safety of our community and the kids in our community,” Brandt said.
“We feel very strongly about doing anything that we can to reduce drugs, and the availability of drugs in our community. We felt contributing to the K9 program was a great way to do our part. By making our community safer, we also make our community a better place to raise young people.”
“Every community big or small has a drug problem,” Kolpack adds.
“K9 dogs assist officers with investigations and have found their niche in helping to curb drug problems, big or small, in their communities.”
Rick Labruin, owner of Antigo Culver’s, is also a strong proponent of the program and has since made that known by helping to rally the community behind the program.
“We strive to be very active in the community,” Labruin said.
“We do a multitude of things for non-profit organizations, churches and schools. We have done a lot for the Antigo Fire Department, but realized we hadn’t done much for the police department.
“I set up a meeting with Chief Roller and asked how we could help. He informed me of the K9 program and said he could really use our help. Through our discussion I felt it was something we could champion and decided to get involved.”
Aside from singlehandedly donating nearly ¼ of the funds needed, Labruin and Culvers set about rallying support amongst the business community.
“We drew up letters to send out to local business owners and posters to set up around town. We really wanted to get the community involved and they responded!
“It was great to see, I somehow knew the community would get behind this. But to see the sort of response we did is just amazing. They really stepped up!”
In addition to spreading the word, Labruin also set about getting a logo for the fund raising effort.
“My wife’s sister happens to be an amazing graphic artist so I asked her if she would help us out by designing a logo for the program. Even though she lives in Texas, she was more than happy to help.”
The community response has since paid off for the K9 program, literally.
As of Monday, the program had raised over $25,000.
With just $5,000 left to go, the department has moved forward in selecting an officer for the unit.
On Monday, Roller announced Bula had been selected to be the first ever Antigo Police Department K9 handler.
“Ryan is a great officer,” Roller said. “He is an Antigo native who took it upon himself to come forward and commit to not only the program, but the dog and our community. He has provided a great service to our department.”
Blua will be heading to Steinig Tal Kennels in Campbellsport, WI next week to select his canine partner. Steing Tal happens to be the same home kennel of Officer ‘Eros’ of the Merrill Police Department’s K9 unit.
“We have heard nothing but great things about them. Ryan will head over there next week to select a dog and then he and his partner will return to Campbellsport in October for training,” Roller added.
Roller further stated the breed will most likely be a German Shepherd and will focus on training in the areas of drug detection and tracking.
“We want our dog to not only be a police dog, but a community dog as well,” Kolpack adds.
“The dog will be trained in drug detection and tracking, to help us find lost persons and other people we need to find. The unit will also be active in the community with presentations and such. We look forward to the unit being an asset for us in terms of public relations.
“After all, without the community we wouldn’t have the unit. By being active in the community, the community can interact with the unit and in a sense, see what they have accomplished.”
Chief Roller and the Antigo Police Department would like to thank and express their appreciation for the Antigo community and business owners for their generous support of the new APD K9 program.
The department continues to welcome donations.
Donations of any size are appreciated and matter greatly to the cause. Those interested in supporting the Antigo K9 program are asked to mail donations to the Antigo Police Department located at 840 Clermont Street or Antigo City Hall located at 700 Edison Street. Please make checks payable to: City of Antigo K9.
“We have always had a great community supportive of a good cause,” Mayor Brandt adds.
“This is a great cause and once again our community has come through.”