After seven years of service to the community, the Warrensburg Police Department is looking to retire their police dog, Gunner.
However, the Police Department is asking members of the community to assist in funding the purchase of a new dog.
Chief Rich Lockhart said Gunner was diagnosed in November with degenerative myelopathy, a disease in the lower back that results in a loss of mobility.
Lockhart said Gunner joined the department approximately seven years ago after being trained by Sgt. Adam Wade, his handler. Lockhart said Gunner specializes in tracking narcotics, patrol work, fugitive apprehension and field and article searches.
However, Lockhart said Gunner’s specialty is interacting with the community through public demonstrations.
“From a community building standpoint, it’s very important to have that bond,” Lockhart said. “Children can approach police and talk to them about a dog much easier than anything else. It’s a really important bonding tool with our community.”
Lockhart said the disease hasn’t negatively impacted Gunner’s drive and he seems to not feel any pain. He said Gunner has been treated using steroids and chiropractic techniques. Since the diagnosis, Gunner has been used primarily for narcotics searches.
“He doesn’t even really notice it,” Lockhart said. “He’s still got that drive. But his back legs just aren’t working like they should work.”
Gunner’s retirement date is unknown, and Lockhart said the Police Department is taking it day-by-day. Gunner may be retired before a replacement is found. In that case, other area K-9 units will step up and be utilized by the department when needed.
One such K-9 is Echo, a German shepherd who’s approximately 7 years old. Capt. Dan Othic, of the UCM Public Safety, said the Warrensburg Police Department could utilize Echo when he is not needed on the university campus.
Following his retirement, Lockhart said Gunner will remain with Wade as a family pet.
Locating and training a replacement K-9 is much more complex than going to the local animal shelter.
Lockhart said there are few police K-9 breeders in the United States. One such breeder is Vohne Liche Kennels of Denver, Indiana, which he said supplies the K-9 units for the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. Lockhart said the selection of a kennel will likely be done via a request for proposal process.
When a kennel is chosen, the handler will view a variety of dogs. Lockhart said the Police Department is looking at purchasing a pre-selected dog, which is bred from other potentially good working dogs. He said that the average cost of a pre-selected dog is approximately $15,000 before training and other costs.
“The way the process was explained to me is that they (the breeder) keeps bringing dogs out to you until one clicks,” Lockhart said.
He said breeders provide a year-long warranty on health and training.
After a dog is chosen, Lockhart said the handler will spend three weeks at the kennel for the intensive initial training of the dog. He said this process trains the dog for bonding, communicating with the handler, detecting narcotics and working patrols. Following the completion of the intensive initial training process, the dog is transported home where they join the police department and proceed with additional training.
“Training is continuous for these dogs,” Lockhart said. “You’re always training with them. Like any other person or dog, a skill is lost if you don’t train and build on it.”
After the completion of the initial training, the approximate total cost is $20,000. To pay for it, the Warrensburg Police Department is looking to the community for help. The Police Department has set up a GoFundMe campaign where community members have contributed over $3,800 as of Wednesday. Lockhart said the Early Bird Rotary Club has designated the Police Department to receive the proceeds from the “Taste of Johnson County” event.
People wishing to donate to the Police Department to replace Gunner may use the GoFundMe or drop a check off at City Hall made payable to the “City of Warrensburg.”