Nicole Smith of Huntsville is hoping to raise at least $1,000 for the city’s police department and its effort to get another K-9 officer.

Smith’s son, Huntsville patrolman Blake Evans, is scheduled to be the dog’s handler, once the city has enough money to purchase a dog. The previous K-9 for the city, Conan, transferred to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office when its handler, Logan Roddy, took a job there.

“My son is actually supposed to be the one that is going to be the K-9 handler, so I’m kind of just doing it to help get money so he can get his dog faster,” Smith said.

Smith and her son designed a T-shirt for the fundraising effort. The shirts sell for $15 for sizes small to extra-large, and $17 for sizes 2XL and up. For each shirt sold, $5 will be donated to the K-9 fund. T-shirts are available in black, gray or pink. The front of the shirt says “Blue Strong.” On the back is a U.S. flag with a blue line which says “Arkansas.”

“I’m just taking orders and they’re making them for me,” Smith said. “I’ve just been tuning them in as I get them [orders].”

The T-shirts are being made by Off Color Designs & Printing in Huntsville.

“I’ve sold about 110 shirts so far,” she said. “I was hoping to at least make $1,000 and I’ve made about $500 so far.”

Huntsville Police Chief Todd Thomas said the K-9 account has about $8,000 of the needed $12,000 to purchase a new dog. Such animals can range in price from $10,000 up to $20,000.

The city wants to buy a “dual-use” dog, meaning it can work to detect drugs, can protect its handler, and can work as a tracker.

Once the police department has the needed funds, Evans will spend a week at the kennels, possibly in Little Rock, working with a potential K-9 companion. After a second week of training, the K-9 will begin actual work on the job with Evans, Thomas said. After about 90 days on the job, the handler and K-9 will go for another week of training. The handler must be re-certified every year, Thomas said.

“When we send our handler down to train with them, one might find [a dog] for $10,000 that works and then it may not click,” Thomas said. “We really want to have around $12,000 before he actually goes down and starts the training process.”

Thomas said law enforcement agencies in Fayetteville, Springdale and at the University of Arkansas offer training for Huntsville K-9 officers and their handler.

“We have an open invite to train with them,” Thomas said. “When we had Conan, we trained with the U of A at least once a month, about eight hours a month, additional training.”

Thomas said Smith’s effort to sell T-shirts is to be commended.

“It’s nice to see support from not just the people selling it but the people purchasing it,” Thomas said of the T-shirts. “I think it’s great that we have people in our community that support law enforcement across the board. It’s kind of dark times for law enforcement with all the undesirable rhetoric that is focused on law enforcement.

“We’re not perfect, we all make mistakes, but it’s just over-exaggerated and exploited to a dangerous level when an officer makes a mistake. And we do, like anybody in any profession makes a mistake,” he said.

If the T-shirt fund and other efforts don’t reach $12,000, Thomas said he will seek donations elsewhere.

“I just don’t like going back to the same people and saying, ‘We need another dog.’ We had one, they helped us a year or two ago and now we’re going to buy another because that one went to the county.”

The county did reimburse the city several thousands of dollars when Conan joined the sheriff’s department.

“We did, thankfully, purchase a K-9 through the generosity of local corporations and local businesses,” Thomas said of when Conan was obtained. “The dog is still here in our community and it’s still available for Huntsville, but it’s a county dog because the handler left and went to work for the county.”

Thomas noted that once a K-9 officer is trained with its handler, it’s very difficult to get it “to respond and work well with another handler.”

To order a T-shirt, call Smith at 479-789-0107 or 479-737-1273.

Thomas said anyone wishing to make a donation can do so at the police department, located at 200 E. Main St. The K-9 fund is actually called the “drug fund” for legal purposes, Thomas said.

“We have everything we need,” Thomas said. “We still have the kennels, we have all the equipment for the dog, the cages, the cooling fans, everything we need for a K-9. All we need is the actual animal.”

Another effort to raise money for a K-9 officer is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 2. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals will host a “Huntsville Night” at Arvest Stadium in Springdale. The Naturals will host the Springfield, Mo., Cardinals in a 7:05 p.m. game. Half of the money raised from locally-purchased tickets will go to the K-9 fund.

Tickets can be purchased at the police department from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday-Friday. The deadline to buy tickets is July 23.

For details, contact Nancy Marsh at 479-738-8758, Huntsville City Hall at 479-738-6607, or the police department at 479-738-2610.

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