Charity raises funds to help retired police dogs

"Jet-Li" served IMPD for five years after five years in Iraq.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - He may look like just another dog playing with his owner in the snow, but Jet-Li has a history of which we can all be proud.

The Dutch Shepherd served with Navy SEALs for five years in Iraq, and then with IMPD for another five, where he sniffed out drugs and helped make more than 100 arrests. According to Sgt. Craig Patton, he became one of the top dogs in IMPD's K-9 corps.

"We have so many dogs, but if I could have 23 patrol dogs like Jet, I would take 23 just like him. He was awesome," Patton said.

And he should know. Patton is in charge of all of IMPD's K-9s.

When Jet-Li started his military career in 2006, he went by the name of "Knicker," but when he came to Indianapolis at five years old, they changed his name to Jet-Li - a nod to well-known military dog trainer, Navy Petty Officer First Class John Douangdara.

"Jet-Li" was Douangdara's nickname. He died after Afghan fighters shot down his military helicopter in 2011, about he same time Knicker moved to Indianapolis to begin his police career. Douangdara was highly respected here in Indianapolis, so the dog got a new name. It stuck and Douangdara's namesake went on to have an exemplary career with IMPD.

When it came time for Jet-Li to retire, he faced a dilemna that is repeated thousands of times a year in the U.S. what to do with police and military dogs when their working careers are over. They are well-trained and well cared for when they are working, but taking care of them after that is usually the responsibility of their partners or someone who adopts them. They are often large dogs, with physical issues from their careers. They have big appetites. They can cost their owners thousands of dollars a year.

That's where "Project K-9 Hero" comes in. Long time trainer Jason Johnson started it in January, with the express purpose of caring for retired police and military dogs.

"I think it's important that they're honored for their faithful and loyal service to our communities," he said. "They've spent their life protecting us, so I'm trying to spend mine protecting them."

Johnson is on a major fundraising push now, with a goal of providing retired service dogs up to $3,000 a year for medical costs, getting quality dog food for them at cost, and providing a death benefit of up to $500.

Project K-9 Hero has about 12 dogs in its program right now, but Johnson says the need is far greater than that. He calls it "the world we live in."

Municipalities have to work within a budget. When a dog retires, they usually replace it with another dog, and that's where the resources go. Caring for dogs who are no longer on the force is not a budget item they can handle.

His motivation is simple.

"We just want to make sure that they're taken care of for their services, they're respected in the way we feel they should be respected, and they get to live a long, healthy, happy life in retirement," he said. "Without their handler or someone who adopts them having to put them down because they can't afford to keep the dog any longer."

Which brings us back to Jet-Li.

When it came time for him to retire, John Douangdara's brother Pan wanted to adopt him. He had room for another dog in his home and Jet-Li was a living connection to his late brother.

"It means so much," he said. "Just because I can see his (John's) passion for why he did what he did."

Project K-9 Hero paid to ship Jet-Li to Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, where he is is now surrounded by his namesake's family, including Pan's young daughter, who never met her uncle. Now she has a connection to a dog with a connection to him, something not lost on the rest of the family.

A South Dakota dog park was dedicated in memory of Navy Petty Officer First Class John Douangdara.
A South Dakota dog park was dedicated in memory of Navy Petty Officer First Class John Douangdara.

Jet-Li is also able to run and play in a dog park nearby that is named after John Douangdara. It includes a statue of John. To the family, it is more evidence that life can come full circle through a loyal dog that served the country, our city, and now a family missing a son, brother, and uncle.

It is exactly the kind of result that Project K-9 Hero is hoping to see repeated again and again. To reach its goals, it is raising money to help retired K-9s by selling t-shirts and a children's book, and taking straight donations.

To learn more about them, you can follow this link.