When Eric Siemens started work as a police officer for the city of Marshalltown nearly three years ago, he never imagined he would one day have a partner with four legs.
That all changed when the police department chose him to be the agency's newest K-9 handler last year.
Now, Siemens said, he's enjoying every minute with his new partner, Raji.
T-R PHOTO BY LUKE STALZER
Officer Eric Siemens stands outside the Marshalltown Police Department Monday afternoon with his new K-9 partner, Raji. Siemens and Raji just returned from training a few months ago and started work in late June.
"I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but we've done really well together," Siemens said.
The MPD purchased Raji, a 1.5-year-old German Shepard and Belgian Malinois mix from Slovakia, earlier this year after former K-9 Creasy, handled by Sgt. Kiel Stevenson, suffered an embolism and later died in late 2012. The department's other K-9, Awol, handled by Sgt. Melinda Ruopp, suffers from fibrotic myopathy and will need to retire within the coming months.
Police Chief Mike Tupper said K-9s and their upkeep aren't cheap, but they're a nice addition to the police force to help sniff out crime and apprehend criminals.
"The training is very expensive," Tupper said. "Everything included, it's right around $20,000."
The police department kicked off a fundraising campaign for the new K-9 unit last year with an initial goal of $20,000. After that goal was met faster than anticipated, a new long-term goal of $60,000 was set and the MPD is more than half way to that point.
"The fundraising has went very well," Tupper said.
Earlier this year, the MPD sent both Siemens and Raji to a rigorous three-month K-9 training in St. Paul, Minn. After graduating from the program May 23, Raji hit the streets shortly after and has been in service for about a month.
Siemens said Raji still requires constant training and he will soon train Raji on finding drug paraphernalia and tracking down a criminal.
"We've been training narcotics a lot," Siemens said. "It's an all-day, everyday thing."
Siemens said he spends about one to three hours a day training, but when he's off so is Raji. He said he needs a break once in awhile too.
Sgt. Melinda Ruopp said it's nice to have another dog on the streets as Awol has been the only one county-wide for the past year. This time of year proves to be tough for the dog and his disease.
"I let him tell me 'he can't,'" Ruopp said. "We're controlling [the pain] with medication, but for right now he's doing everything I ask him to."
Ruopp said the MPD is now beginning the process of picking out the department's next K-9 handler. She said she doesn't have any plans to handle another dog.
"I think we'll start the process here relatively soon," Ruopp said. "For right now we'll be picking a new handler to go up to St. Paul."
Tupper said the MPD will "absolutely have to purchase another K-9" because of Awol's declining health and that will be done within the next few months.
"[Awol's] health is still declining," Tupper said. "I don't really anticipate him working too much longer."
To make a donation to the K-9 unit, checks can be sent to the Marshalltown Police Department, 22 N. Center St., with "K-9 Unit" written on the memo line.