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K-9s show off their skills at Paws in Blue

Officer Dustin Fleming and his K-9 partner, Loki, of the Jonesborough K-9 unit, wait for the events.


H&T Correspondent

Dog lovers and those who wished to support local law enforcement attended the second annual fundraiser for Paws in Blue on Saturday, June 15, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Jonesborough Middle School’s football field. 

At last year’s fundraiser there were nine dogs who participated in the competition demonstration this year the number increased to 11.

“It’s called a competition demonstration because the dogs will be competing for some things, but then they will also go through an obstacle course that will demonstrate things they have to do on the job, such as jump through a window,” said Paws in Blue President Ruth Verhegge.

The K-9s that took part in the day’s events were from the Jonesborough Police Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson City Police Department, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

The purpose of the fundraiser was to raise money for the Jonesborough Police Department to add a fourth dog to their K-9 Unit and to have funds to take care of the dogs.

Verhegge said she wants to have a cushion balance, meaning the money set aside will finance things that the dogs and unit will need in the future. She used Loki, the senior dog of the unit, as an example of this.

Officer William Rhodes and Mali entertains crowd on the agility obstacle course.

“Most K-9s retire around age 10 and he’s eight years old, so we need to have money to replace him when he retires,” said Verhegge.

She also said that money is needed for vet bills and other things that the dogs need.

The money raised Saturday will be used to buy the fourth K-9 and provide money for the program.

Verhegge said the amount needed to support one dog is about $3,000.

The celebrity bagging event that took place Friday at Food City raised $1,500 for Paws in Blue. While final numbers for Saturday’s event are not yet complete, funds raised at both events are currently estimated to be about $4,000.

Major Jamie Aistrop, the emcee of the fundraiser, said that Paws in Blue has been beneficial to the Jonesborough police department because they did not always have the finances needed to keep their program going, such as when a dog retired, and a replacement was needed.

“It’s important for Jonesborough to have a K-9 unit first and foremost because it’s a good public relations tool and secondly, it acts as a crime determent,” Aistrop said.

He said that people are aware that Jonesborough has drug dogs and are not afraid to use them. He believes that this cuts down the amount of narcotics in the area.

Jonesborough is known for hosting events and the K-9 unit is used to protecting those who attend them. Cygan, one of the dogs in the unit, is certified in explosive detection and is used for such situations.

The first part of the fundraiser began with the article search. Each dog had to find six different items within three minutes.

Loki and his handler officer Dustin Fleming won the article search finding all the items within 35 seconds.

The second category of the competition was fastest dog. The dogs were unleashed and commanded to apprehend a decoy suspect. The dog that took the least amount of time to get from the starting point to the decoy won the category, which was Rudi from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Before the competition continued, several of the dogs and their handlers went through the agility course set up on the football field.

The first dog that went through was Mali from the Washington County Sheriff’s office. He made the crowd laugh when he, at first, refused to go up the ramp and instead went under and around. He even tried to go up the side before finally running up the ramp.

Rudi went through the agility course with the least amount of difficulty.

The third category of the competition was recall, which means that the dog who responded to their handler’s command to stop before biting the decoy’s arm to apprehend would win.

Cygan won by stopping immediately when his handler officer Hannah Fleming called out the command.

Wanting to give the dogs a break from the heat and physical activity, the event organizers decided to take a break.

Several of the officers that took part in the day’s events participated in the donut eating contest.

The fourth and final category of the competition was hardest bite, which was won by Rudi.

At the end of the competition demonstration, winners of each category were named and given a trophy.

Rudi and his handler officer, Roger Antone, were named the Regional Top Dog because Rudi did well in the four-category point system shown above.

More than 100 people attended the fundraiser, and several brought their dogs to enjoy the sun and activities.

Those with dogs were asked to stay up near the bleachers so that the K-9s would not get distracted from their task.

One couple, the Malcolms from Bristol, Virginia, said they saw Verhegge on the news and decided to come out and see the K-9s. They brought their two-year-old rescued German shepherd out because it’s a good way to socialize her.

“We really enjoyed it, especially the recall, and appreciate them putting it on,” said Mrs. Malcolm.

Lisa Larrick and her daughter Sharon, residences of Jonesborough, attended the fundraisers because they love dogs and wanted to show their support for the police department.

Both the dogs and law enforcement are very important to them because six months ago their dog Daisy was stolen, and Lisa is grateful for the work that officers are putting in to bring Daisy back home.

The Larricks wanted to show their gratitude and support for all that the Jonesborough police do by attending the fundraiser.

Aside from the competition, the fundraiser also had vendors and booths set up for local organizations.

The vendors were Young Living, Duke and Fox custom per embroidery, Krispy Kreme, Chick-Fil-A, Lowe’s and Sticky Paws Bakery.