Don’t let her size fool you. She may only weigh about 50 pounds, but Kasia, a dog with timid brown eyes and a strawberry-blonde coat, has been trained to detect explosives. She serves with the K-9 unit of the Long Beach Police Department to help keep the city safe.
An audience of about 75 people gathered on picnic benches at the Long Beach Police Officers Association Park in the Long Beach Towne Centre on May 20 to learn more about the people and dogs who serve on the K-9 unit. Monday’s demonstration of the K-9 unit was the latest event of Open Up Long Beach, a series hosted by 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske that offers residents a behind-the-scenes look at various services and departments in the city.
Kasia seemed like any other docile family pet that Monday night. The Belgian Malinois mix stood on her hind legs and then put her paws up to greet her handler, Officer Ernie Wolosewicz.
Wolosewicz currently cares for Kasia and two other K-9s, including one that’s been retired.
“All the dogs that I have now have saved my life,” Wolosewicz said Monday. “Had they not been there, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
He remembered one occasion when another dog died in the line of duty and saved his life and the life of another handler during a SWAT deployment.
“So we don’t like to see it happen,” Wolosewicz said, adding that these dogs are there so he and the other officers can come home to their family.
An officer who has served with the Long Beach Police Department for about 20 years, Wolosewicz also trains dogs on the K-9 unit to sniff out explosives and narcotics. He evaluates the dogs regularly and can speak to the rigorous training that both dogs and handlers must complete.
Schipske praised the members in the department and the Long Beach K-9 Officers Association, which raises money to offset the costs of the dogs.
“This is a labor of love,” Schipske said during the presentation, adding that the men and women behind the program even care for their dogs in their home.
The association also plays a large part in the dogs’ care in coordination with the City and the officers. The officers who serve on the K-9 unit have to show a special amount of dedication that takes up both time and a considerable amount of money if they want to be K-9 handlers. Daniel Kachel serves as the president of the Long Beach K-9 Officers Association. He said that officers must commit to the unit for five years and pay $3,000 out of their own pocket to purchase their first dog.
The association covers the balance of the cost to purchase that first dog since they are not cheap. The association recently purchased one dog for $12,000. The military has a huge demand for dogs to be deployed overseas, and the costs were driven up, according to Wolosewicz. In addition to the costs of care, the dogs are outfitted with special equipment: bullet-proof vests and even video cameras.
According to Kachel, the association pays for replacement dogs. The City of Long Beach covers the costs of the dog while they are on duty. The association pays for the needs of the dogs when they are off duty. This includes the cost of medical care, food and even the costs to cremate the dogs and bury the ashes in the memorial cemetery in the police academy, according to Kachel.
The K-9 unit has only about eight dogs at this time. Schipske said that while there have been budget cuts to the police department for the past few years, the K-9 unit was not affected. She said that she looked forward to this upcoming budget cycle, for which she didn’t anticipate that the City would have to deliver bad news to the police department. The councilmember explained that since the City’s redevelopment program has been dissolved, the City is seeing an influx of $26 million because property-tax money that had previously gone to the redevelopment agency will now stay in the general fund. Schipske said that the City is also enjoying additional oil-revenue money and that the City will be able to restore necessary services that improve residents’ quality of life.
Kasia sniffed the ground as Wolosewicz kept her at a safe distance from the kids and adults who beamed at her from their perch at the park’s picnic tables. Then Wolosewicz apologized to the crowd that they had to leave. He and his furry warriors had been called to duty.