Whitewater gets new police dog, handler

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Jonah Beleckis | June 2, 2017

WHITEWATER—Less than six months after the abrupt resignation of its police dog handler, the Whitewater Police Department announced that it has a new dog and handler.

Ruso, a 28-month-old Labrador retriever, will be sworn in Tuesday, June 6, at the city council meeting with his handler, officer Justin Stuppy, according to a city news release.

After previous handler Joe Matteson resigned “unexpectedly” in January, as Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher said at the time, he agreed to buy police dog Boomer for $3,500.

At the time, Otterbacher said she spoke with the kennel that trained Boomer, and staff could not guarantee Boomer would adjust to a new handler.

The move caused apprehension among council members and city officials. They said police dogs are big investments, and Boomer had less than three years of service in Whitewater.

To address those concerns, the council discussed a canine handlers agreement May 2.
The agreement calls for the handler to:

-- Make a five-year commitment to the position. The assignment length can change depending on the service life of the dog, sustainability of the program, police department needs and “other factors as determined by the chief and city.”
The assignment will be extended only if the handler and police chief agree.

-- Become ineligible for promotion or other special assignment until the end of the assignment, unless agreed to by the police chief.

-- Not be automatically assigned another police dog if the current dog retires or is removed before the five-year term ends.

-- Reimburse the department's dog donation account “the full cost of the initial canine purchase and all handler training expenses, including associated travel and per diem expenses,” in the event he or she fails to comply with the agreement.

The handler, police chief and city manager can agree to waive the reimbursement if appropriate.

The city also has the right to eliminate the K-9 unit at any time and for any reason, according to the agreement. The police chief also can remove the handler or dog “due to documented unsatisfactory performance.”

The new dog, Ruso, is from Mexico and graduated from Little Rock K-9 Academy in Arkansas, according to the release. Like Boomer, Ruso will focus on drug detection but will also be involved in tracking.

The cost for Ruso, the handler's training in narcotics and tracking, and housing will be about $8,950, according to the release.

Eric Lang and Mary Horing of M.E. & My Pets will continue to cover food costs, and Mike Newell of the Animal Medical Center of Whitewater will pay for annual medical care.

Stuppy began formal training with Ruso on May 8. He started his career as a Whitewater community service officer in April 2013 and was promoted to patrol officer in March 2015. He currently works the midnight shift.

The public is invited to attend Tuesday's council meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m., according to the release.

“We appreciate the continued support from our community to maintain and sustain the K-9 program,” Otterbacher said in the release. “The program is not supported by city tax dollars, but rather as a citizen partnership program.

"The sustainability of our program will continue to rely on annual fundraisers and private donations," she said.

More information on the police dog program is available on the Whitewater K-9 and Whitewater Police Department Facebook pages, the city's website or at the Whitewater Police Department, according to the release.

Correction: As part of the agreement, the handler only has to reimburse the donation account if he or she fails to comply with the agreement.

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