PITTSBURGH, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Southwestern Pennsylvania residents are rallying in support of a hometown victim of budget cuts -- the local police dog.
Officials in Jefferson Hills cut the funding for the canine program that supported Fritz, who rode in a patrol car with a handler and visited schools in campaigns to combat drug abuse.
The canine program cost about $7,000 a year but the handler earned as much as $30,000 extra for having the dog, said Police Chief Jack Maple. The canine program shut down in December.
But residents started raising money to revive the canine program after last month’s closing, and dozens of Fritz supporters attended a council meeting this week to encourage officials to reinstate the 5-year-old German Shepherd.
More than 700 people have joined a Facebook group called “Save Jefferson Hills K-9 Program.”
A local convenience store has sold nearly 600 “Fritz Bones” -- pictures of bones that customers can buy and hang on the walls of the store -- for $1 apiece.
Proceeds will be given to the dog’s handler, who is caring for Fritz whether officials reinstate the program or not, said store owner Carrie Howard.
“We’re angry,” Howard said. “We’re not done with this.”
Kim Gawlas, whose husband Chris Gawlas was the dog’s handler, disputed the cost of the canine program. She said her husband was paid extra for overtime and other tasks and not for caring for Fritz.
Fritz played an important role in “drugs, search, apprehension” and other police tasks, Gawlas said. “He’s a utility dog, he’s multifaceted,” she said.
But the police seemed unmoved so far.
“The council just did away with the money for the program,” Police Chief Jack Maple said Thursday. “It’s a done deal.”
Council President Chris King did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune