The Philomath Police Department’s goal of re-establishing a K-9 program will have to wait a bit longer.
Earlier this summer, Working Dogs Oregon and Howling Creek Kennel in cooperation with the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police awarded grants to just two agencies statewide — Philomath and Pendleton. The value of the grant equates up in the neighborhood of $45,000, local police chief Ken Rueben said.
The Philomath City Council gave the program its stamp of approval at an Aug. 12 meeting to go ahead and accept the grant. However, in the days that followed, pending staffing changes led to Philomath needing to delay the program’s reintroduction.
“We received the grant, however we have to have an officer that meets certain criteria to be able to handle the dog,” Rueben said. “Due to staffing changes, we’re unable to accept the grant this year.
“However, working with Working Dogs Oregon, which is the grant provider, and Howling Creek Kennel, they’ve agree to work with us for potentially getting a dog next year using the same grant, which is great,” he added. “So we’re going to push the program back a year.”
The multi-layered grant covers most of the program’s start-up costs, including the cost of a fully-trained German Shepherd.
“Their cost of a trained dog is $19,000, so this is no a cheap endeavor,” Rueben said.
Following the dog’s training and testing, the local department’s officer assigned to be the handler goes through 10 weeks of training. Rueben said the grant covers the training costs, including housing, which adds another $20,000 to $25,000 to the award’s value.
“We’ve been in constant communication with the grant people and we’re actually meeting with them next week to go over this again just to see where we are,” Rueben said Thursday. “They’re actually trying to help us find somebody to hire, too.”
According to Working Dogs Oregon, a German Shepherd named Bali is heading to Pendleton and his brother, Gus, had been chosen for Philomath. Two other pups are being trained for the U.S. Marshal’s Service, Rueben said.
Working Dogs Oregon posted on its Facebook page just Thursday that K-9 Gus was working with master trainer Noah Robbins.
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“After they get through training, they try to match those dogs to the officer,” Rueben said. “In the near future, if we were still in … they would try to match the personality of the dog to the officer.”
Philomath had a K-9 dog named Ilox from 2006-11, purchased through a fundraising group of concerned local mothers called “Moms Against Meth.” Then-officer Dave Gurski, who is now a sergeant at Philomath PD, was the German Shepherd’s handler.
Highway 20 is known as a main corridor for drug traffic between the mid-Willamette Valley and the Oregon Coast. K-9 alerts are probable cause for police to perform a full search of a suspect’s vehicle.
Although Rueben said the program will be pushed back a year, the timeline could move up fast if he’s lucky enough to find just the right lateral hire in the coming weeks. The local department is actually advertising for two vacancies.
“We’re specifically targeting officers in Oregon or elsewhere that have a background in K-9 handling certification or if there are people that have a current goal of becoming a K-9 officer, we would look at them,” Rueben said. “We’re advertising two — we’re anticipating that we might have another staff change at the end of the year. But nobody’s left yet, which is the weird part, but in a small agency because of the timing, if we understand that a person is going to leave or retire, which is what’s happening here, then we open it up right away.”
Hiring officers is no quick endeavor, especially if the hire needs to go through police academy training.
“That’s why we’re hoping to find an actual lateral transfer — which we haven’t done in a long time,” Rueben said. “We have found a couple of people that are interested so we’ll see how that all works out during the (job) testing.”
Rueben said the grant, in a way, could be worth up to $100,000. In addition to the K-9 and officer training, there is also a fundraising component.
“They have a group — it’s the Knights of Columbus — that do assist the existing agency or the foundation, in this case, for fundraising for additional funds,” Rueben said. “They take over the fundraising and that could be up to $60,000. … Our goal would be to fundraise for a new police vehicle.”
The Philomath Police Foundation, created to support the local department by raising private funds, pledged to continue its financial contributions for any additional program needs.
The City Council debated the K-9 program’s financial impacts at its Aug. 12 meeting and the vote to accept the grant ended up passing on a slim 3-2 vote.