Members of the Gainesville Police Department K-9 Unit hosted a ceremony Monday to welcome their two new K-9 recruits, and publicly recognize the people whose donations helped to buy them.
Ace and Ranger are 18-month-old German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mixes that were bred in Europe before being brought over to GPD.
Because of their specialized breeding, the dogs run upwards of $8,000, making them difficult to purchase without the help of donations from community partners.
Ranger, GPD’s newest recruit, joined the team in February with the help of funding from Gainesville personal injury attorney Steven A. Bagen & Associates. Ace, who joined the K-9 unit back in November, was purchased with donations provided by 10-year-old Kaiya Varner and her godmother, Nancy Perry.
Perry made a donation of $1,000 last April when she saw that GPD was looking to add two more dogs to their family. Perry said it was nearing her birthday and she wanted to gift something to the community.
“It was a matter of me looking through to see what was of interest, and Kaiya loves animals – she has a house full of dogs,” Perry said. “We saw that there was a need here for an animal and it just seemed like a perfect match for us.”
Special Units Commander, Lt. Jeff Blundell, who opened the ceremony, awarded commemorative plaques to the donors, which thank them for their patronage and include photos of the dogs with their handlers. Blundell said that because they made purchasing the dogs possible, the partners were allowed to name the dogs.
“We let the donors name the dogs as long as it’s not something controversial. Nancy Perry and Kaiya Varner came up with the name, Ace, and Steven A. Bagen & Associates came up with the name Ranger,” Blundell said.
Both dogs are partnered with first-time handlers. Officer Josh Meurer has been with Ranger for a little over a month and has about four more months until the two can work as a K-9 patrol team. Due to the hours spent between handler and K-9, Meurer said it isn’t hard to get attached to the dogs.
“We’re with these dogs almost 24 hours a day. The only time I’m not with him is like when me and my wife go out to dinner. Other than that, he’s with me at the house, he comes to work with me,” Meurer said. “It makes us a stronger a team.”
Officer Edward Ratliff, a 10-year veteran of the patrol division, always dreamed of being a handler, and when he got partnered with Ace last November, that dream finally came true. He said he and Ace completed training a month ago, and they now share a close bond.
“So, we play and we eat, and then we take naps and then we get ready for work,” Ratliff said. “I put his work collar on and he gets all excited because he knows it’s time to go to work, and we run out to the truck and we go start helping people.”
The K-9s were brought in to be trained as dual-purpose dogs, tasked with both patrol work and narcotics. They must undergo a 480-hour training course with their handlers to be certified by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for patrol work, and then another 200 hours for narcotics work.
With the addition of Ace and Ranger, GPD’s K-9 Unit now has 5 active dual-purpose dogs and two single purpose dogs, which are only trained for narcotics, and hopes to add two more to the force before the end of the year.
Despite the rigorous training and discipline the dogs face, Ratliff said at the end of the day, they’re like family, and that he expects only great things for him and Ace in the future.
“He’s super friendly. He’s not a police attack dog that people associate them with,” Ratliff said. “They’re just like any other pet; they just want to be loved. They just happen to have jobs.”