Catch area K-9 officers in action during Operation K9 at the University of Wisconsin-Superior's Ole Haugsrud field Thursday from 4-7:30 p.m. The free community event is the largest fundraiser of the year for the Amsoil Northland Law Enforcement K9 Foundation.
The nonprofit, which was founded eight years ago, exists to raise funds for the five local agencies: Superior, Hermantown and Duluth police departments and St. Louis and Douglas county sheriff's offices. As law enforcement budgets have dwindled, the foundation has stepped up to help fund K-9 dogs for the departments.
The free, family-friendly event will include K-9 demonstrations, an opportunity to meet-and-greet the dogs and get pictures with them. Trading cards featuring the canine officers will be available, as well. There will be a silent auction, police vehicles on display, bounce houses as well as food and apparel for sale.
The stars of the event are the area K-9 officers.
"People get to see the cops, but they get to see the dogs from all the different agencies, and they're all unique, they're all different in their own way, shape or form," said Superior police officer Jeff Harriman, who works with K-9 Lacka. "They're all good at certain things that, you know, maybe my dog isn't so good at. They all have their personality, let me tell you."
The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the event last year.
"We are super excited to be here," foundation president Robbin Champaigne said. "We've had a lot of changes since 2019. We've lost, whether they were retired or whatever, five dogs. We will pay tribute to them at the beginning."
Departments have also welcomed a number of new canines, who will be featured for the first time. That includes Superior police officer Tyler Rude and Radik. Trained in narcotics detection, apprehension, tracking, evidence recovery and searches, the German shepherd-Belgian malinois mix hails from Hungary.
"He's very, very social. Loves to be pet, loves the ball, loves toys, that kind of thing, but also likes to work. This is the kind of stuff he loves to do," Rude said. "He was bred to do this line of work and it's what he loves to do. He also likes to be a normal dog as well. Just like we like our off days, he does as well."
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One thing Radik is hyper-focused on is his Kong ball. After detecting narcotics during a practice demonstration Tuesday at the field, Rude threw him the toy.
"You can see the ball's in his mouth, that's kind of his ultimate favorite thing," the officer said. "He'll go out and do some police work, do anything for that ball."
Visitors will also get a chance to meet Kallie, a 3-year-old black Labrador who detects explosives, firearms and shell casings alongside her partner, Duluth police officer Jeremy O'Connor. She joined the department in November of 2019. Her handler said he expects her to be a fan favorite at the event.
"She's definitely sweet," O'Connor said.
As with the other K-9s, she is focused on work and continuous training is key.
"Training's almost the same for all dogs, it's just the odors that they're looking for," O'Connor said. "A big part of the training is it's all a game for them. So they love it; they enjoy it. What we look for in a dog is a lot of play drive, a lot of toy drive. It's their playtime."
Kallie is the department's first lab, its first single-purpose dog and its second female K-9. Funded by a donation from the Irving Community Club of West Duluth, she's been an asset to the area.
"Our first day of service together in Duluth, we had to assist another agency clear a school from bombs after a bomb threat was made," O'Connor said. "We've been pretty active otherwise We've helped sweep areas when presidents have come to town — both Trump, Biden — vice presidents, governors, senators, so pretty busy. And we'll work UMD graduation, Grandma's Marathon, the airshow — a lot of work together."
The community will get to see what the dogs are capable of, and meet them face to face. For Harriman, who has been partnered with Lacka since 2017, the event is also a chance for people to see that officers are just normal people like everyone else.
"It's our job. We're not out there trying to make the news; we're not trying to be on the news. We're just a guy or girl who goes to work, just like everyone else," Harriman said. "It's just us with our dogs; everybody loves a dog."