By ALLEN RAU
Over the past year, Jonesborough’s K-9 unit has grown significantly, and is on track to gain another member within the next month.
And for Ruth Verhegge, president of the Jonesborough Paws in Blue charity, it couldn’t happen quickly enough. And with good reason, too.
“Several of us are convinced the shooting up here on 11-E would have been prevented had we had an appropriately trained K-9,” Verhegge said recently.
At this time last year, and at the time of the incident, there was only one K-9 available, and he was not trained for apprehension.
Paws in Blue was started in 2018 after that incident when Verhegge organized the charity to raise funds for more K-9s in order to prevent similar future incidents.
The K-9 unit has since gained a member, while another is currently undergoing training and certification at F.M. K-9, a canine training facility in Michigan where the Jonesborough pups were purchased and also trained.
According to the Paws in Blue press release, the goal of the organization is “to support the Jonesborough Department of Public Safety’s K-9 program through fundraising and conducting educational programs related to police K-9’s.”
Verhegge states that their goals are to have four fully trained, active K-9’s on the force. At that number, when one is retired, is unavailable or is not trained in the appropriate field, another will be available on short notice.
Fundraising also will assist with caring for the police dogs, as such highly trained canines are very expensive to purchase as well as to care for and equip properly.
In 2018, Paws in Blue held a Skills Competition for local K-9 teams at Persimmon Ridge Park that was very successful and helped to beef up the Jonesborough K-9 unit.
Verhegge believes that this year’s competition will have more K-9’s from more departments and she hopes to make the prizes for winners more enticing, provided the funds are available.
Major events from the competition last year included an article search, the hardest bite and the fastest dog.
As a result of Verhegge, the Paws in Blue committee and its members, Jonesborough Department of Public Safety now has three K-9’s.
Loki, an eight-year-old chocolate lab, is the veteran of the group and specializes in tracking, article search, obedience and narcotics detection.
Cygan, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois Shepherd mix is trained in apprehension, explosives detection, building clearing, area searches and tracking.
And Nero, a Dutch Shepherd, is currently training with his handler Tammy Ray in Michigan. A tentative completion date is at the end of May.
Paws in Blue, a 501(C)3 organization, was founded as a means to help raise funds in order to add more K-9 dogs to the Jonesborough Police and to help keep the officers out of harm’s way as much as possible.
“It’s almost unlimited the benefit that these dogs have had. It’s amazing what these dogs can do,” Verhegge added.