Memorial planned for canine officers killed during duty

East Valley Tribune
Written by Adam Stern

Canine officers killed in the line of duty will soon have a memorial honoring their heroism and bravery fighting crime throughout Arizona over the past 30 years.

Recent state legislation allows for the Arizona Police K-9 Memorial to be built in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in downtown Phoenix, said officer Gordon Leitz, who has worked with police dogs for 15 of his 17 years with the Mesa Police Department.

The plans call for a large bronze German shepherd to be constructed atop a granite pedestal that has the names of the fallen animals etched into the stone, he said.

Leitz said about $25,000, to be raised through private donations and fund-raisers, is needed to get the project under way.

More than 200 dogs are part of Arizona police departments, Leitz said. Since 1977, 10 dogs have died on the job.

Police dogs are used for a number of tasks, including building and area searches, narcotics and explosives detection and as a psychological deterrent, Leitz said.

"A lot of bad guys, they'll fight with us, but you would be surprised what happens when a dog shows up," Leitz said. "They don't want to fight the dog."

Scottsdale police officer Owen Keefe has been working with his Belgian Malinois, Nitro, for three years, and says there is satisfaction every time his dog assists in an arrest.

Nitro once tumbled over a short wall with a suspected car thief, falling about 20 feet onto concrete. Despite injury, the dog was still able to hold onto the suspect so officers could make an arrest, Keefe said.

The primary goal for a police dog is to protect the officer, said Leitz, who has worked with his dog, Lyndsay, for almost a year, after eight years with another canine officer, Duke.

"If my dog gets shot, then he saved an officer's life," Leitz said.

Dog memorial
Donations for the Arizona Police K-9 Memorial can be made at any Arizona Wells Fargo Bank location using account 3520835111. Checks also can be mailed to: Arizona Police K-9 Memorial, 3370 N. Hayden Road, No. 123-411, Scottsdale, AZ 85251.

- Adam Stern