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Sunday Focus: Fundraiser underway to help Natchez get new K9 officer

NATCHEZ — Last week, Adams County Christian School students experienced a casual Friday like no other, as they were able to meet and greet four-legged law enforcement officers and scratch them behind the ears.

Three K-9 officers visited the campus Friday morning during a special fundraiser, in which students each paid $2 to bend the school’s uniform rules and wear jeans to raise money for a new K-9 for the Natchez Police Department.

Deputy Michael Kracek with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office accompanied his K-9 named Duke, a bloodhound who can follow scent trails more than a month old, while Deputy Thomas McGinty with the ACSO Special Operations Group accompanied Barry, a mixed-breed dog that is certified in detecting narcotics.

“Our only K-9 (Arko) has pretty much reached the end of his working period,” Natchez Police Chief, Walter Armstrong said. “He’s been a huge benefit to the department in terms of searching, tracking and things of that nature, which is very pertinent to law enforcement in order to do the things that we need to do, but K-9s are very expensive, and we are in need of a replacement.”

Armstrong said funding for a new K-9 was not in the city’s budget before members of the community reached out to help raise funds themselves.

“We have been approached by individuals in the community who have shown interest in helping us get funding. We are certainly grateful to the community and those individuals who have stepped forward and offered us their service. We’re looking forward to continuing working with them to secure funding for our next K-9.”

Nearing retirement

Arko, an aggressive German Shepherd who has been with the Natchez Police Department for at least nine years, has multiple abilities that are beneficial to the NPD, said NPD K-9 officer Brian Seyfarth.

Arko also has abilities that help other surrounding agencies that may not have a K-9, including the ability to track down lost people or items and detect narcotics, Seyfarth said.

However, Arko is approaching 14 years old and has developed several health concerns with age, including arthritis and cancer, Seyfarth said.

“Most people don’t realize how much these dogs are needed until something happens that affects them,” Seyfarth said. “People can look at these dogs and say, ‘Oh, that’s just a mutt,’ but when it’s your child that is lost in the woods or your grandparents that have walked away from the nursing home and that dog is able to track that person down and bring them back home safely, you realize what a difference they make.”

Arko could be ready to retire by December, Seyfarth said, and the department would need to find a replacement for him at least a month before he is finished working in order to train the new animal and allow him to grow accustomed to his master.

Change of command

Armstrong said Arko’s replacement needed to be equipped with the same abilities he has in order to meet his department’s needs as well as nearby agencies.

“We’re talking in the neighborhood of $15,000 for a new animal. We’re looking for a dual purpose K-9, one that’s good for tracking and can sniff drugs,” Armstrong said. “There are instances where law enforcement agencies with a K-9 have been called to assist others. We don’t want to wait until our K-9 is retired and no longer able to work to find another.”

Fundraising

Friday’s fundraiser was organized by a retired teacher, Cindy Meng, who said she met Seyfarth and Arko a few months ago when she had an emergency at her home.

Meng said her own dog died of cancer and she felt empathetic toward the department’s need and thought of a school fundraiser as a simple way to help.

“When I taught school, the kids adored out of uniform days,” Meng said. “I thought, ‘What a simple way for them to receive drug education, see these dogs actually work and at the same time benefit the K-9 unit.’ Everyone benefits from it. We all need law enforcement and protection.”

To contribute to the K-9 fund, checks should be made payable to the Natchez Police Department and designated for the K-9 on the bottom left line, Meng said.

“Any and all donations are appreciated,” she said.

Payments can be mailed or delivered to the department at 233 D’Evereux Drive.