By Pomera M. Fronce Close-Up Correspondent
Copyright 2007 The Salt Lake Tribune
Sgt. Allen Crist and his police dog, Wyatt, make up one of the South Jordan Police Department K-9 teams. Officer Darin Watrous and his dog, Neo, also team up on their police rounds.
The department's K-9 program began in 2000 with a single narcotics-detector dog named Cuffs, who has since retired. Crist, a member of the program since 2003, began training Wyatt when the bloodhound was 10 weeks old. The dog, which was donated to the department by Bitterroots Bloodhounds in Bluffdale, is now 3 years old and is a single-purpose tracking dog.
Despite his youth, Wyatt has already located over 25 fugitives and has assisted in searches for missing children and other missing persons. Agencies in surrounding cities often call on Wyatt for help in tracking crime suspects.
Crist says tracking duty is tough but rewarding.
"Bloodhounds are the perfect dog to use in missing-children cases," he says. "They are superior trackers."
Neo, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, is a multipurpose dog who searches for people, narcotics and evidence. Since his arrival in 2002 from Holland, the West Jordan canine cop has prevented an officer-involved shooting and has located over 100 pounds of illegal narcotics. He also has helped find numerous crime suspects.
"He's energetic," Watrous says.
Since the dogs do so much to protect their human police partners and the public at large, Crist wants to do more to protect them. Under state law, it is a felony to injure or kill a police dog. Still, the dogs have no physical protection while on duty and in harm's way.
That's why Crist wants to outfit Wyatt and Neo in bullet-resistant vests. Unfortunately, the K-9 squad's budget is too small to fund the $2,000 custom-fit vests. So Crist and other officers are appealing to the public and area businesses for help. The donations, though, have been slow to come in.
This is where Liz Peterson enters into the picture. She, as well as friends and co-workers at the University of Utah and University Healthcare, were anxious to pitch in to help raise money for the vests. Thus far, thanks to the efforts of the officers and Peterson, the department has raised half of the required funds.
"Every penny counts, and there are no small donations," Peterson says. "A little girl gave me a nickel and a smile, and I consider that one of my biggest donations."
Peterson wants every dog in all of the K-9 squads to wear a bullet-resistant vest. She is asking people to contact their local police department to find out what they can do to help protect the dogs.
"Do what you can," she says. "Share what you can. You can make a difference."
* To donate to the South Jordan Police Department's K-9 fund, call Sgt. Allen Crist at 801-254-4708 or e-mail . Trading cards of police dogs Wyatt and Neo are available by visiting the department at 1600 W. Towne Center Drive.
Utah police ask for dog-vest donors