Funds being raised to continue program
BY KEVIN BONESKE
The third K-9 dog to serve the Rhinelander Police Department was recognized Tuesday at a “retirement ceremony” at City Hall where the seats in the council chambers were filled with concerned citizens.
Drago, a German shepherd who served the city for nearly nine years as a dual purpose K-9 certified in narcotic detection and patrol work, finished his duty assignment with the city in late December. He appeared at the ceremony with his handler, Sgt. Angela Mertz. Police chief Lloyd Gauthier presented them both with plaques.
Mertz said no longer having Drago in a squad car initially was difficult.
“It’s was definitely hard those first nights – I was looking for him, forgetting that he wasn’t with me anymore,” Mertz said. “So it was definitely a transition period, not only for him, but me also. But I think we’ve found our groove, and both of us are OK in the positions that we’re in now.”
With Drago’s service to the city now over, Mertz, who remains Drago’s owner with Gauthier also having provided her a letter to that effect, is continuing on with the department as a patrol sergeant, though no longer in charge of the K-9 unit as another officer will be selected to handle the fourth dog in the department’s history.
Mertz, who noted she will now be focusing more on teaching and community events with the department, said she will also be available to help the transition to a new K-9 dog and handler.
“Because I participated in it for so long, I will be available for whatever they need,” she said. “Whether it’s the chief (needing) consulting on picking a new handler or kennel, or when the new handler is selected, if they have questions or anything like that, I’ll always be available for them.”
Gauthier said two RPD officers are being considered for taking over the K-9 program, which he hopes to resume in the summer upon the handler being selected and a new dog trained. In the meantime, Gauthier noted the RPD could request a K-9 unit from Minocqua or Lincoln County if one would be needed.
To continue Rhinelander’s K-9 unit, which Gauthier calls a “key crime prevention tool within our community,” he said the police department is once seeking donations and sponsors, which can include monetary gifts as well as pets supplies and food. In anticipation of Drago’s retirement, stuffed animals that depict a K-9 dog have been available for sale.
Gauthier said it will cost from $35,000 to $40,000 for the dog, training and outfitting a vehicle for a K-9 unit.