Santa Paula Times

Pictured left to right are: K9 Evan, handler Jim Fogata; new K9 Hozy, handler Randy Haumann; new K9 Chevy, handler Scott Varner; retiring K9 Rex, handler Ryan Smith; retiring K9 Jack, handler John Coffelt. All the K9’s were honored last week during a Spaghetti Dinner held for the retiring K9’s Rex and Jack (photo by Craig Mailloux).

Santa Paula Police K9’s honored at retirement dinner

May 05, 2010
Santa Paula Police Department

Hundreds of people filled the Community Center to say goodbye to two dedicated Santa Paula Police K-9 crime-fighters and welcome new rookie pups at the Spaghetti Retirement Dinner for Jack and Rex. Sponsored by the Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation, the event was a family affair including those human partners the dogs have lived with throughout their careers.

Jack will stay with Officer John Coffelt and his family, while Rex will continue to be Sergeant Ryan Smith’s roommate. The two K-9s were all wagging tails and gentle nose pushes as they were congratulated upon their retirement.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” said Limoneira Company President/CEO Harold Edwards, who attended the event “for two reasons... my deep support of the SPPD and to consume (Dinner Chairwoman) Debbie Johnson’s meatballs!”

“Spaghetti and dogs,” said John Chamberlain. “It doesn’t get any better than that!”

“Wow, it’s packed,” said Jennifer Tushla as she checked out the crowd, many who were purchasing raffle tickets from SPPD Explorers.

“I brought my family to support the SPPD and the dogs. They’re a wonderful asset,” said Hector Solano.

Master of Ceremonies Police Chief Steve MacKinnon introduced Councilman Ralph Fernandez, Vice Mayor Fred Robinson and City Manager Jaime Fontes, as well as “an important dignitary,” retired SPPD Sergeant and former Mayor Rick Cook, the department’s “first dog handler.”

MacKinnon told the crowd, “This is overwhelming, the support we have. Tonight is the epitome of community policing,” showing the former’s support for the latter and its essential K-9 program, which must garner community support to continue.

A “great tradition” of law enforcement agencies throughout the nation is honoring those officers who retire. Jack and Rex, with more than 100 years of dog age service packed into their approximate eight years of SPPD duty, deserve no less, MacKinnon said.

“When the K-9s hit the streets” they are following the path of others before them, providing not only protection for the officers but the community at large. The dogs, said MacKinnon, are a proven and “invaluable” crime-fighting tool.

Retirement dinner sponsors generously stepped up to support the event, and “Every restaurant and store in town” donated raffle items. MacKinnon officially introduced the new K-9s: “We’re very, very lucky to have two major sponsors,” Santa Paula Chevrolet/John Macik who donated Chevy and ARP/Hozy’s Grill which donated Hozy to the SPPD.

The cost of the dogs must be supplemented by funds for initial, special and year-round training required by the program that assures efficient policing. A K-9 trained in narcotics detection can go straight to the source, and MacKinnon said, “Officers don’t have to toss the house, the dogs go straight to the drugs.”

Officer Randy Haumann introduced Hozy, noting he has been bonding with the still-shy 3-year-old. “Every day he learns a little bit more about me and me him... and the streets,” said Haumann, who thanked Hozy’s Grill and the crowd for their support of the K-9 program.

MacKinnon said Hozy last week just missed catching a fleeing suspect who jumped a fence. “If Hozy had been just a tenth of a second faster he would have gotten the guy,” but after the incident MacKinnon said the K-9’s expression conveyed, “Oh, now I understand!”

Officer Scott Varner introduced his new partner Chevy, just shy of 18 months old, “still a pup, still learning. I want to thank Santa Paula Chevrolet for their generous donation,” trainers Dave and Debbie Inglis, as well as those present for their enthusiastic support of the program.

MacKinnon noted K-9s and their partners from several agencies were also in attendance - a reflection of the joint training they undergo weekly, and “They came out just to show support for our unit.”

MacKinnon introduced Jack and his partner Officer Jack Coffelt and Rex and partner Sergeant Smith. The dogs are the “real stars of the evening, they’re famous... we don’t have kids running up to officers, and I don’t remember the last time a kid pulled my ears!”

Angel Golis of Four Paws Veterinarian Clinic presented gifts - badge shaped cookies and rawhide gift cards - to both dogs, noting her appreciation of the SPPD and Fire Department for their support of the recent St. Baldrick’s celebration that raises funds to provide wigs and other services to children with cancer.

MacKinnon read letters thanking Jack and Rex - as well as their human partners - for their service from Congressman Elton Gallegly, and Councilman Fernandez presented proclamations from the city, noting “Even the bad guys are celebrating their retirement!”

Fontes also made a presentation, noting, “I have been blown away by this K-9 program, it’s incredible.... I’ve seen them in action bring bad guys down” and help in missing person searches.

Jack and Rex will find it hard to “take off the uniform; they’ve spent their entire adult life working for us” and, said MacKinnon, have forged “an incredible connection with the officers and the community.” Each dog received a food dish reading “You served the community, now we serve you,” as well as a K-9 police identification card so, MacKinnon added, “They can always get out of a traffic ticket!”

Coffelt said he and Smith “didn’t expect anything like this... I thank my wife Delia and son Christian; no one can be a successful team without family. Upon Jack’s retirement, even though he continues to live with his former partner, Coffelt said, “I feel like a part of me is missing.”

“This is overwhelming,” and Smith thanked all for “letting me come to work everyday with my best friend,” which has allowed him to enjoy “the best part of my career. Rex has saved my life” and that of others, and has provided officers much needed backup in dangerous situations that the presence of the dogs can quickly diffuse. The life of an officer can mean dealing with people that “hate us,” and Smith said when he spoke to Debbie Johnson about the event he did not realize how successful it would be.

MacKinnon again lauded Santa Paula Chevrolet and Hozy’s Grill, and noted their names among other supporters strung throughout the room written on dog bone cutouts. He also thanked Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation President Don Johnson and his wife Debbie for their “commitment” - Debbie also received flowers for “stepping up and saying she could do this” - and their vow to hold an annual event to support SPPD programs. “This event,” said MacKinnon, “was overwhelming.”

The purchase price of each K-9 - who are imported from Germany - is up to $12,000 each; initial and specialty training costs up to $5,000 per session. For more information on the K-9 program call the SPPD, 525-4474.