Just two years after eliminating the ’s canine program was discussed at the City Council level, the department is announcing expansion of the program.
With a public fundraising campaign and a key donation from the office of Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold, the two-dog unit will become a trio in the next few weeks, said Novato police Captain Jim Berg. The new dogs made their first visits Monday with their handlers at the Novato Police Department.
Two new dogs — one a replacement for the retiring Kyto, a 10 ½-year-old German shepherd, plus the third dog — will go into training on Aug. 1 and will train with other police dogs for five weeks before starting street patrols, Berg said.
One dog is named Metz and will work with Officer Jeff Ames. The other dog is unnamed and will work with Officer Kendrick Pilegaard.
The department plans to have a naming contest for the third dog, and details about entry forms are to be released soon, Berg said. The official introductions of the new dogs — Belgian malinois breeds — are set for an Aug. 23 meeting of the Novato City Council, and the name of the third dog will be announced then. Kyto will take one final bow that night before retiring to a life of leisure, Berg said.
Novato Chief of Police Joseph Kreins announced at a June council meeting that $8,700 had been raised in donations and that $15,000 would be enough to move forward with the purchase and training of a third dog. Since then the figure has jumped nearly $18,000 — $7,000 from Arnold, about $7,500 from a grassroots group called Pennies for Police Dogs and about $3,400 from a police department account set up several years ago.
The fundraising is ongoing, though. If enough money is raised, the dogs will be sent to five weeks of narcotics training at $3,800 per dog/handler, Berg said. In addition, the department will need to find at least $1,700 per year for ongoing training.
Belgian malinois are slightly smaller than German shepherds. Berg said the dogs, which cost $8,200 each, are preferred because of advantages in agility, durability and overall health reasons. A typical police dog works about six years before retiring from duty.
Kreins describes the canine unit as a money-saver for his department, which has been reduced to 55 sworn officers because of budget cuts. That’s about 10 fewer than Petaluma and 15 fewer than San Rafael. Kreins describes the dogs and their handlers as “police force multipliers” because they enhances officer safety and pose a viable deterrent in dicey situations. Novato's dogs are used in searches all over Marin County and occasionally Sonoma County.
Berg said elimination of the canine patrols was discussed in 2009 when the most severe city budget cuts were made, but the Novato City Council veered away and made sacrifices elsewhere.
“It was recognized that the cost is small compared to return on investment,” Berg said. “I think everyone recognizes that, and there were other opportunities to make cuts that didn’t provide the level of service a canine does, especially now that the sworn staff has been reduced.”
Partial credit goes those who made donations over the past few years for the canine program. The Indian Valley 4-H Club, , and other service groups, churches, businesses and individuals have rallied behind a campaign called Pennies for Police Dogs with a goal of raising enough money for a third dog and its associated training plus police cruiser modifications.
Toni Shroyer, a 4-H Club volunteer and one of the forces behind the police dog fundraising effort, said volunteers such as Dinah Mattos and Linda Riedel have “literally been out there shaking cans” for donations. She said people have donated 20 years’ worth of pennies, sold fresh eggs, redeemed recyclables, held bake sales and sold items on the Internet to help the canine program.
Shroyer said the most heartwarming donation — a bag full of coins — came from a woman who had lost her job and was in the process of losing her house. The woman told Shroyer the money was her “rainy day savings" for the cause, and she felt the rain was hitting Novato harder than it was hitting her.
"I am so overcome by the generosity of the good people of Novato toward the Novato Police canine program in this brutal economy,” Shroyer said.
Purchasing and training a third dog would “help abate crime and possibly save an officer’s life,” she added. “This (fundraising effort) goes to show you that we have a zero-tolerance for crime. I’m very impressed with the people of Novato, and we’ll keep fighting.”
With the June retirement of Kyto, who served for nine years, the department was in the process of finding a replacement dog anyway to join Ingo and his handler, Officer Mike Braun, Berg said. Officer Kevin Naugle, Kyto’s handler, has been promoted to corporal and is moving out of the program.
Ames, a 10-year veteran on the force and a volunteer “agitator” during dog training sessions, will replace Naugle and work with Metz to replace the Kyto/Naugle team.
Berg said Kyto will continue working with Ingo for the next five weeks until both new dogs are ready for duty.
Arnold said she was pleased to support the program's expansion, knowing how much it helps other nearby agencies.
"When I learned from Chief Kreins that the Pennies for Police Dogs campaign had raised over $8,000, I wanted to show my appreciation for this worthy effort by adding the remaining funding to complete the $15,000 the police department needs for police canines," she said in a statement.