‘Suspects just give up’: New equipment helps Yakima K9 officers get into attics

YAKIMA, Wash. — When law enforcement officers in Yakima County want to use a K9 officer to get a suspect out of an attic, there’s usually only one option: climb a ladder with a 100-pound dog over their shoulder and toss them through the opening in the ceiling.

“When you try to get 100-pound Shepherd and a 200-pound man through a three-by-three-foot square, it doesn’t always work,” said Deputy Nick Ward, the handler for K9 Zuza at the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. “You have to brace yourself for the pain.”

But now, thanks to community donations obtained by K9 Foundation Yakima Valley, both the police department and the sheriff’s office have attic deployment systems that will make it easier and safer to move the dogs into position.

Deputies are able to use a long metal pole to secure a clamp onto an exposed rafter that connects to a pulley system, which they can secure to a special harness put on the dog to hoist it up to the attic’s opening.

Yakima K9 Attic Deployment System

“Once the dog is up there, secure and ready to rock and roll, we can pull that string and the dog can do its business,” Ward said. “But we all have good control of whether we let them off.”

Ward said that means they can get the K9 up through the entrance and hold on, giving the suspect one more chance to reconsider surrendering to police without a fight.

There are less than a half-dozen K9 units between the police department and sheriff’s office, including:

  • Deputy Nick Ward & K9 Zuza
  • Deputy Justin Paganelli & K9 Remington
  • Deputy Joel Panattoni & K9 Simcoe
  • Officer Brad Althauser & K9 Zorro
  • Officer Mark McKinney & K9 Trex

Handlers at the Yakima Police Department and the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office credit much of the success of their programs to fundraising efforts by K9 Foundation Yakima Valley.

“Before we had the foundation, for most of our donations, we basically went door to door like Boy Scouts and begged for money,” said Officer Mark McKinney, the handler for K9 Trex at the Yakima Police Department.

McKinney said the nonprofit began with the 9K for K9 Run fundraiser and was able to take a lot of the financial burden off the handlers, which allowed them to get back to training and patrolling.

K9 Foundation Yakima Valley was founded in March 202o by a small group of women who learned their tax dollars didn’t support most of the equipment or expenses related to the K9 programs.

“When I learned about the lack of funding, my jaw just dropped,”  said Fern Hart, founder and executive director of K9 Foundation Yakima Valley.

Hart decided to start asking around for donations, believing that people would want to get involved because they’re part of a greater community that loves dogs and generally supports law enforcement.

“Because of that, we were able to raise enough money to supply safety equipment that these two programs have never had,” Hart said.

Hart said every donation makes a difference, no matter how small. She said her favorite donor is a young girl who started giving $5 out of her allowance every month to the foundation about two years ago, when she was just 12 years old.

“She’s a young person that loves dogs, obviously, and loves law enforcement and wants to be safe and keep her mom safe,” Hart said.

The foundation has been able to assist in purchasing the attic deployment systems, the K9 officers, ballistic shields, other protective equipment and dog supplies, as well as paying for them to go to trainings and conferences they might not have otherwise been able to attend.

“Everything from the dog to the cars to the equipment, it’s all donated by you, the public,” Ward said. “They just have been a great support and honestly, we just wouldn’t be as as far ahead as we are without those guys.”

Both Ward and McKinney said they want people to know that their donations make all the difference and that the K9 programs are worth supporting to keep officers, the community and suspects safer.

“I’d say 80% of the time when we show up with the K9, the suspects just give up before we would have to use a dog,” McKinney said. “So not only is it preventing officers from getting hurt, it’s preventing the suspects from getting hurt.”

Hart said sometimes all it takes for an uncooperative suspect to comply is just to hear the dog barking from inside the patrol vehicle.

“They’ll fight 10 officers, but they won’t fight a dog,” Hart said.

Ward said he has the same experience and uses the K9’s presence to gain compliance from suspects when he’s trying to take them into custody and they’re thinking about running.

“They’re starting to tense up and they’re starting to look away and I just remind them that this fat guy doesn’t chase people, but the dog does,” Ward said.

Anyone interested in making a donation to K9 Foundation Yakima Valley can do so online on their website, through their Facebook page or by sending cash or a check to K9 Foundation Yakima Valley at P.O. Box 2463 Yakima 98907.

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