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Millcreek Journal

Millcreek remembers police dogs killed in the line of duty

Jan 02, 2020 11:42AM ● By Hannah LaFond

A photo of police service dog Dingo, who was killed on duty in Millcreek in 2017. (provided by Deputy Chief Chad Reyes).

By Hannah LaFond | [email protected] 

For years dogs have been referred to as man’s best friend, but according to Deputy Chief Chad Reyes, the relationship between a police service dog and their handler is even stronger than that.

“Even though I loved all the (pet) dogs I’ve had before, there’s really no words to describe the bond with your service dog. It’s almost like you become symbiotic beings, it’s like they’re an extension of your own self,” Reyes told the Millcreek Journal.

Before working as the deputy chief in Herriman City, Reyes worked as a K9 handler for Salt Lake City Unified Police Department. During this he was the handler for K9 Officer Dingo, who was killed in the line of duty in 2017 in Millcreek. The Festival of Trees this year had a special tree decorated to honor Dingo and Aldo, another K9 Officer, killed on duty in 2016.

Each year the Primary Children’s Hospital hosts the Festival of Trees where beautifully decorated Christmas trees are auctioned to raise money for the hospital. Senator Jani Iwamoto donated the tree that honored Dingo and Aldo. There have been trees to honor fallen officers in the past years, but this is the first in honor of K9 officers.

Iwamoto became involved in honoring these two police dogs because both their deaths took place in Millcreek.

“Because they happened in my district, I saw how they were treated just like a (human) officer and that really moved me,” Iwamoto said. “It took me on this journey of learning more and more about the K9 police officers.”

She was so moved by these two tragedies that she presented SB57 in the 2018 general session, a bill that increased the penalty for killing police service dogs. During her time working on the bill, she got to know Reyes and Aldo’s handler, Luis Lovato. She also learned about the many accomplishments of these two K9 officers and educated herself on the rigorous training and impressive work all police dogs do. 

According to Reyes, training starts when a dog is very young or green, about two to two and a half years old. It’s a rigorous training process between three to six months of 40 hours a week before they’re certified. All of their training is spent with their handler, so they bond during that time. Even after they are operating as a police dog they continue learning and training a minimum of eight to 10 hours a week.

Senator Iwamoto donated a tree to the annual Festival of Trees to honor fallen police dogs. (Hannah LaFond/City Journals)

 And, as Iwamoto learned, once they are trained they perform a variety of highly valuable jobs. These include finding criminals, locating missing persons, and finding drugs and explosives. More recently dogs have been trained to sniff out memory devices to aid in child pornography cases. 

After becoming so attached to the issue, Iwamoto wanted another way to honor these fallen heroes. Since she’s also on the board for the Children’s Hospital, the Festival of Trees was the perfect fit. 

“I’ve gone to the Festival of Trees, but never to opening night. I really didn’t know what it entailed to do a tree. It’s more involved than I thought, but it’s been a really neat experience,” Iwamoto said. “As a board member, I’m getting to see it firsthand every step of the way.”

Iwamoto explained that just decorating the tree was much more labor-intensive than she realized. Because the trees are auctioned, they are transported after the festival to whoever bought them. This means the tree and all its ornaments have to be sturdy enough to survive the trip. In the end, it took a combined effort from Iwamoto, her friends, and members of the Salt Lake City UPD  to donate ornaments and decorate the tree. It was important to all of them the tree paid tribute to the lives of Dingo and Aldo.

Along with that, the UPD donated a tree skirt and a day with a K9 officer to be auctioned along with the tree.

Iwamoto also reached out to Lovato and Reyes, who helped decorate the tree. 

“Of course I agreed and appreciate her idea to memorialize two dogs, that saved my life, in that way,” Reyes said.

The tree was meant to pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of service dogs. For Reyes, this is even more personal because of his time and connection with Dingo.

“I’ve been a dog owner for my whole life. My dad actually raised Labradors and trained them for field trials and sporting purposes. So, I got into dogs at a young age, and I’ve owned many of them over my life,” Reyes said. “Once I was in K9 and partnered up with Dingo, I can say without any doubt or hesitation that the bond that develops between a police service dog and their handler is like no other bond or experience I’ve had.”

Reyes believes this is due in part to the sheer amount of time spent together. Police dogs are not just with their handlers for the 40-hours-plus workweek; they also live together. Dingo went on family vacations with Reyes and was considered a part of the family. As Reyes said, he spent more time with Dingo than his wife or kids. The two of them were hardly ever separate.

On top of that, the bond is strengthened further by the amount of trust that has to exist between dog and officer. When they are at work they are in dangerous situations. Reyes said Dingo saved his life on more than one occasion, and Reyes did the same for him. Reyes compared the experience of going into battle together.

It’s understandable why Iwamoto felt these dogs deserved some further recognition given the risk they took every day. 

“Police dogs have been around for nearly 200 years. Over those 200 years, there have been a lot of advances in technology," Reyes said. "Different tools and inventions have come out that help law enforcement in their duty, but one thing that hasn’t ever been replaced by technology is a police dog.”