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Article updated: 4/8/2013 10:22 PM

Gunnar the German shepherd honored for years of service in Round Lake Beach

By Mick Zawislak

It is said every dog has his day and so it will be for Gunnar, a 100-pound German shepherd who has been a valued member of the Round Lake Beach police department for more than seven years.

With hot weather coming and Gunnar nearing the end of a typical working life for a dog in his position, it was decided to retire his star.

A public relations hit at summer festivals, in classrooms and at other events, Gunnar is a highly trained law enforcement tool who helped catch criminals and often was called upon to assist other jurisdictions.

"It's not because of liability. It's not because of money. It's because of his age," said officer Ken Rydz, Gunnar's handler from day one. "We're doing it for him, basically."

Instead of chasing bad guys, sniffing for drugs or searching for missing persons, Gunnar, who turns 9 this month, will go home for good with Rydz to do what other civilian dogs do in their free time.

"We'd like for him to enjoy his time in retirement and be a pet for awhile and enjoy it," said Deputy Police Chief Rich Chiarello.

The Round Lake Beach village board made it official Monday with a resolution honoring Gunnar, numerous letters of recognition and thanks for teaming with Rydz as the village's first K-9 team since the 1980s.

He may be the last for awhile as there are no immediate plans for a replacement.

Gunnar has been instrumental in tracking at least two armed robbery suspects, Rydz said, but his bread and butter has been sniffing out contraband.

"A couple of cars we have now we've seized as a result of him," Rydz said.

Round Lake Beach Police Lt. Mike Scott said Gunnar was instrumental in an April 2012 search that netted more than $40,000 in cash, as well as heroin, firearms and jewelry.

"It was actually the dog's nose that gave us the legal ability to search the area," Scott said. The dog also participated in a two-year collaborative drug investigation between the FBI and local agencies that resulted in more than a dozen arrests, Scott said. Both cases are pending.

However, Gunnar is one of a vanishing breed who won't be replaced immediately, if at all.

"We're not looking at that currently," Chiarello said. "We're evaluating the program. It's changed a little bit in terms of requirements and training."

Having a K-9 unit is expensive. The dog can cost $10,000 or more, Rydz said, followed by eight weeks of intense daily training and ongoing needs.

Police officer handlers are compensated for maintaining and training the animal. If the team is needed after hours, the officer is reimbursed in overtime or comp time.

Factor in vet bills, potential liability exposure and a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding evidence obtained via a canine "sniff" and it becomes a tough call for departments, according to Lake Zurich Police Chief Pat Finlon, president of the Lake County Chiefs of Police Association.

"I like dogs. I like them as a tool for law enforcement, but they are expensive," Finlon said. "It's a sign of the times. Is a dog nice to have or a must have?"

The Lake County sheriff's office, for example, at one time had five K-9 units and a bomb-sniffing dog but is down to one.

"We just haven't replaced them as they retired," said Sgt. Sara Balmes, an office spokeswoman.

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