Donors fund K-9 program shed, protective vests

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 30, 2018

STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights police dogs will have better protection on the job, and their handlers will have better access to storage at a training site, thanks to recent donations from residents and the surrounding community.

At the Nov. 20 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved Jim Riehl’s Friendly Automotive Group’s $11,000 donation toward a Sundance TR-800 Tuff Shed storage unit at Baumgartner Park’s police dog training grounds. Police said they have been putting their storage items in a 20-year-old dilapidated building, and it’s time for a replacement.

The council also approved donations of bullet-resistant Armor Express ACVs, or agile canine vests. The Police Department will put the vests on its three dogs: Ivy, Ernie and Groot. The last two were introduced to the public earlier in the fall.

City officials said the vest money came from three sources: Michigan Computer Solutions in Sterling Heights, Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights, and Don and Pat McFarlane.

Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski said the donation offers came recently amid lots of changes to the K-9 program, such as the introduction of Ernie and Groot, plus the retirement of another dog, Chase.

“And once we announced these dogs, we had residents coming out of the woodworks wanting to buy equipment for them, training equipment for them, and bulletproof vests for them,” Dwojakowski said.

Each of the donating groups was called up for honor. For instance, the chief praised the Serenity Animal Hospital team for uniting to raise thousands of dollars.

“You guys have been great for us,” Dwojakowski said. “We take our dogs there; we really appreciate your care and taking care of these K-9s.”

Dwojakowski also honored Jim and Janet Riehl. When Sterling Heights police got in touch with Riehl and brought up the building issue, Riehl was eager to supply the money needed to build a new one, Dwojakowski added.

“So I told Jim, I said, ‘Hey, we need a new building back there.’ He said, ‘Well, shoot me a price. Tell me what you need.’

“And I said, ‘$11,000.’ He responded, I think, within 30 minutes. He said, ‘Done deal.’ Check was in hand.”

Riehl, who owns dealerships in Warren and Clinton Township, described his history of involvement with local K-9 programs.

“Somehow, a couple of years ago, my wife and I, we were at our place in Florida, and Chesterfield (Township) was looking for a K-9 dog,” Riehl said. “So we ended up buying their first dog, and then we ended up buying their second dog.

“And then having a good relationship with the chief of police over at Chesterfield … he said, ‘Wait, Sterling Heights is looking for this building. Can you help?’

“And I said, ‘Heck yeah, I would love to help Sterling Heights.’”

After the donors were honored, Councilwoman Maria Schmidt noted the timing of outfitting the dogs in vests, and referred to the early November death of St. Clair Shores K-9 Axe, who was killed in the line of duty.

“This is just added icing on the cake for our K-9 officers,” she said. “We truly, truly appreciate the residents and the businesses in our community embracing our police officers and the department and the community as a whole.”

Mayor Michael Taylor thanked the donors for their generosity and underscored the K-9 dogs’ role in the Police Department’s activities.

“These dogs, they don’t volunteer for this,” he said. “They could live a pretty comfortable life. And so to do everything we can to make sure they return home safe to their handlers every night is really awesome.”