K9 handler in Twin Lakes moving on but dog will stay

This video shows K9 Rex’s swearing in as a Twin Lakes Police Department officer.

Note: This story was updated with new information at about 3:29 p.m. — DH

K9 Rex, a trained police dog brought to the community largely through a grass roots fundraising effort, will remain with the Twin Lakes Police Department, though his handler — who initiated the program — is leaving for a new job.

TLPD Officer Joseph Patla first raised the idea of bringing a trained police dog to the department in 2017. The Twin Lakes Village Board gave its blessing to the effort, but initial and ongoing expenses for the dog were to be raised through fundraising.

Patla served notice June 17 that he would be leaving the TLPD as of July 2, said a news release from the department issued Wednesday morning.

From the TLPD news release (you can read the whole TLPD news release here):

Officer Patla made the decision to move on, and we respect that decision and wish him well in his new opportunity. However, because Officer Patla chose to move on, does not mean K9 Officer Rex needs to stop serving the community. K9 Officer Rex is a sworn member of the Twin Lakes Police Department and we hope that he can continue to serve for years to come.”

An agreement reached between the village and the Police Officers Union said the assigned K9 handler would be expected to serve a 6-year term as the handler. It was further agreed that in the event the assigned handler chose to leave the department prior to the retirement of the K9, the K9 would remain property of the Village of Twin Lakes, the news release says.

After researching the issue, the TLPD decided to retrain Rex to work with another officer. From the news release:

There was no concern by any expert K9 trainer that K9 Rex would suffer any emotional trauma by being assigned to a new handler with the Twin Lakes Police Department. Experts expressed just the opposite, that police K9’s are bred to be working animals, not house pets, and that it would be in the best interest of Rex to continue his career serving his community with a new handler.

The Village Board in a special meeting Wednesday voted to deny a request to sell Rex to Patla in a 5-1 vote with one abstention. Voting to deny the request were President Howard Skinner and Trustees Barbara Andres, Sharon Bowers, Aaron Karow and Bill Kaskin. Trustee Jeremy Knoll voted no to denying the request and Trustee Kevin Fitzgerald abstained.

The news release defends the village’s decision to retain ownership of K9 Rex and retraining him:

Based on extensive research and expert opinions, the Village of Twin Lakes believes much of the information circulating in the community and on social media in regards to this topic is false. We understand this is an emotional event for everyone involved in our community. Nobody in the Village of Twin Lakes wanted to see K9 Officer Rex separated from Officer Patla. However, it is our responsibility to do our due diligence to seek out the best outcome for this situation. Officer Patla made the decision to move on, and we respect that decision and wish him well in his new opportunity. However, because Officer Patla chose to move on, does not mean K9 Officer Rex needs to stop serving the community. K9 Officer Rex is a sworn member of the Twin Lakes Police Department and we hope that he can continue to serve for years to come.”

Patla had presented a plan to Chief Adam Grosz in a letter Patla supplied to westofthe.com that would have had Patla working with Rex part-time for the TLPD until a new K9 handler could be trained to work with a new dog. When the new pair was ready for duty, Patla proposed making a $6,000 donation to the K9 fund and then keeping Rex as his family’s dog. (You can read all of Patla’s letter here.)

Elsewhere in the letter to Grosz, Patla criticizes the decision to retrain Rex with a new handler as having adverse operational, financial and community impacts. He also talks about how his family has bonded with Rex.

“Rex will never be the same dog if you proceed with the forced removal,” Patla says in his letter to Grosz. “There is a chance he can shut down and not perform due to how strong our bond is.”

The village’s plan for retraining Rex has drawn objection from some community members, who argue that Patla should be able to keep Rex. A online petition to “Let K9 Officer Joe Patla keep Rex” has drawn almost 5,000 signatures as of 12:13 p.m., Wednesday.

About the community support, Patla said in another statement issued later Wednesday:

My family is deeply humbled by all the outpouring of support. I wish I had a proper description for the love we have been shown. I am at a loss for words to express our sincere gratitude. Thank you.”

UPDATE 10:08 p.m. — The TLPD has posted this additional statement on its Facebook page about the controversy:

We understand that this has become an extremely emotional time for our community and many of you are looking to us for…

Posted by Twin Lakes Police Department on Wednesday, July 1, 2020
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