“It was either that or write a check out of my savings account,” jokes West Deptford K9 Officer Joseph LaMalfa.
The past two benefits, held “when our funds are low,” said K9 Officer Michael Franks, have raised just shy of $60,000, cumulatively—much-needed dollars that have paid for valuable and necessary equipment for the unit.
“We bought [K9 Officer] Joe [LaMalfa] all his equipment: the lighting package, all the inserts for the cages, the bite sleeves, tracking harnesses, outdoor kennels” through funds raised at the benefits, said West Deptford Deputy Chief Sean McKenna.
McKenna was himself a former K9 officer; his partner “Kilo” was retired nearly 10 years ago after injuring his spine during a search.
The fundraiser also helped the officers pay for materials that they then used to build an outdoor kennel for the dogs at the West Deptford police station.
“It’s bigger than my office,” McKenna jokes.
‘We take work home with us’
“If you’re not a K9 guy, you won’t understand the bond that a K9 handler has with his dog,” Franks said.
“We take work home with us,” he said. “It’s every day.”
Judge, Franks’ former K9 partner who retired this summer due to chronic bite issues, is still adjusting to civilian life with his family, he said.
“It was his teeth that caused him to retire,” Franks said. “It wasn’t old age; he was ready to work and willing to work.”
Franks said that the costs of maintaining the current K9 unit are on the rise, not only due to the $1,800 annual veterinary insurance bills—which don’t include flea, tick, and heartworm medications—but also for regular in-service training.
Each of the K9s train twice monthly at the John “Sonny” Burke K9 Academy to maintain their proficiency in specialties including narcotics, patrol duties, building searches, criminal apprehension, crowd control, tracking, and article searches.
“[The dogs] have a really high drive,” McKenna added. “To keep them balanced [the officers] have to exercise them and train them. Having a day off here and there isn’t really enjoyable for them.”
LaMalfa, who has two male, non-service dogs—all German shepherds—in addition to his K9 partner, Mako, said the children in his household know Mako as part of the family; they even take the dog on vacation with them.
“I used to send them into the kennel with him to give him his water,” LaMalfa said. “He just bonded with the kids right away. Within a month or so he was living in the house.”
“I’m a K9 guy 24-7,” LaMalfa said.
The fraternity of K9 handlers within the Gloucester County police departments is a strong one, McKenna said, with Franks and LaMalfa honoring requests from their brothers-in-arms at nearby departments to participate in National Night Out community demonstrations, for example.
Moreover, LaMalfa said, as entertaining as those demonstrations are, they are also opportunities for the dogs and their handlers to train with one another as well. That comes in handy, he said, when K9 officers are needed to substitute for one another in a pinch.
“A lot of times if Mantua has something and they look for assistance, and there’s a call for us to go, I can go on a track with Mantua’s dog,” LaMalfa said. “It’s a great advantage for us to all go together, being so close.”
“These guys go all over the place,” McKenna added. “They could go to Atlantic City if they needed a hand down there.”
As an example, said Chief Samuel DiSimone, former K9 handler Lt. Jeff Ferry of Mantua P.D., who lost his dog in 2009, traveled with the West Deptford officers on their trip to pick out K9 Tazor.
“These three guys went, I went, and he went, but he had nothing in it,” DiSimone said. “He was off; he works for Mantua, doesn’t work for us. His day off, [Ferry] took a work day away from his family” to make the trip.
The K9 Unit fundraiser
will be held Nov. 16 at Masso’s Crystal Manot, 210 South Delsea Drive in
Glassboro. Tickets are $30 and the show runs from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Can’t go? You can still make a donation to the K9 unit. Call Franks at 856-498-7347 or LaMalfa at 609-238-4635 for tickets.