Local veterinarian, Dr. David Sweickowski, has worked with the Douglas County K-9 Unit since 1997. Having close ties, he recalls the day he received word that the program was struggling to stay afloat and might fold. “In 2010, it was looking like we had to retire the dogs after examining them- the county said there was no money to replace them,” Sweickowski continued, “That would have pretty much eliminated the function of the whole unit.”
Until that time, when he could, Sweickowski had been donating support when aging police dogs were brought into his Franktown Animal Clinic for care. “From time to time the handlers would come to me after the dog retired. They would need expensive medicine for the animal and I would just give it to them because they couldn’t afford it,” he said.
Seeing a need, those periodic interactions gave way to establishing Friends of Douglas County K-9. Created in 2011, the foundation sought to help cover costs for the K-9 Unit for two reasons: 1. Replacing dogs that retired with working dogs and paying for training 2. Providing care for the animals for the rest of their life. “In my mind and the board’s mind was that the k-9 unit was going to go away if there aren’t dogs,” he stated.
The hard work of the organization has led to the department recently authorizing six active police dogs. The trained canines will serve multiple important functions; aiding in investigations requiring them to sniff out items like: drugs, fruit, missing persons and helping bring suspects into custody. “People try to disguise illegal substances, but dogs can usually and up discovering things in those types of situations,” Lieutenant Tommy Barrella stated, “Dogs are trained to recognize thousands of smells.”
They have also been able to further support the program by buying costly equipment like $3,400 Kevlar doggie vests and paying for additional K-9 training as needed. Swieckowski notes, “We’ve done drug detection and tracking classes where they (the dogs) are taught to track an individual. We’ve also brought in a decoy to teach the dog how to bite properly so the dog doesn’t get injured when biting a suspect.”
Lieutenant Barrella, a longtime handler for the K-9 unit, knows firsthand about the significant role the dogs play for the department as well as for their handler. “You’re with them more than your family. You spend more time with them than any other human in your life,” Barrella said. That friendship is what makes it nearly impossible to part with the animal once it is retired, even though the health problems are numerous.
That’s why Lieutenant Barrella and officers in Jefferson, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties are thankful for the efforts of FDC K-9. However, Dr. Sweickowski sees the community as the real hero behind the program. He knows from experience that the K-9 Unit would cease to exist without their financial support.
In their fifth year, the Friends of Douglas County K-9 will be holding their annual fundraiser on September 24, 2015 at Cielo at Castle Pines. For more information on attending the event and how to donate to the foundation, please visit: http://k9friends.org/