Four-legged crime fighters now have a permanent memorial recognizing their loyal service at a cemetery just south of Gurnee.
Scores of law-enforcement professionals were present Wednesday for a ceremony unveiling the Northern Illinois Police K-9 Memorial. It resulted from a private fundraising effort that began in 2011 with the help of retired Lake County sheriff's canine unit Deputy Anthony Fanella and his sister, Traci Sikorski.
"It's something important," Fanella said after the ceremony. "These dogs are out there with these officers 24/7. Their job is just as dangerous as anybody else's. And a lot of times when you have an open door or a burglary in progress or you don't know if there is somebody in the building, these dogs go in."
Carved from granite, the life-size statue depicts an officer on bended knee with an arm around a police dog in a section of Highland Memorial Park at Hunt Club Road and Route 120 in unincorporated Lake County. An inscription reads: "Worthy of such devotion. He is your friend, your defender, your dog."
Below the statue are tiles engraved with names of the initial 79 canine cops recognized at the memorial, which is for all police departments north of I-80. The towns where the dogs served also are noted.
With at least 25 officers and their dogs serving as a backdrop, bagpiper Matthew Karner played when a wreath was placed before the memorial toward the end of the ceremony.
Paul Pomazal, director of police dog training at TOPS Canine Complex in Grayslake, said he wondered why the memorial wasn't pursued years ago. The retired Highland Park police officer said he forged a close bond with his late canine partner, Magnum, because they were together almost 24 hours a day.
"If you're into team sports, you'd be great in dog work, because we can't do any of those things (on the job) alone," Pomazal said. "The dog couldn't do it without us and we couldn't do it without the dog."
Fanella, whose canine partner, Sinbad, died in 2004 after about two years together, was spurred into pursuing the memorial by his grandmother, Helen Bigner. She had read newspaper articles about police dog memorials where she lives in Florida and sent them to Fanella.
Sikorski said walls will be built around the memorial so there is space to remember more police dogs after 180 tiles on the ground are filled. She said northern Illinois police departments will have until July 1 each year to submit the names of dogs for inclusion at the memorial, which is open for public viewing.
"It would be nice for people to come out and pay respect to them," she said.
Names of all 79 police dogs were read to the crowd at Wednesday's ceremony, starting with Lance from the Lake County sheriff's office, who died in 1987. The only dog on the list who died in the line of duty was Countryside Police Department's Dago in August 2006.