LaGRANGE — For more than two days in September 2014, LaGrange Police Officer Wendy Bryant, her fellow colleagues, area law enforcement officers and total strangers banded together to find her K9 partner, Chico, who disappeared in some woods in northern Troup County.
Bryant and Chico were tracking an escaped inmate through a treeline along the Interstate 85 corridor when the Belgian malinois suddenly took off without his handler.
The inmate was eventually found that first night, but Chico was not. The massive hunt to try and locate the K9 began immediately. Almost 53 hours after Chico disappeared, he was discovered safe and healthy deep in those same woods — and he was reunited with Bryant.
The K9 officer said she never forgot all the love and support that poured in from the community during those dark days — not just for her and Chico, but for all the LPD K9 units and the entire department.
“People in the community wanted to take up donations and get GPS collars for our dogs,” Bryant said. “They wanted Chico to be the grand marshal in the Christmas parade. When he was missing, people wanted to come out and look for him. That let me know that we have a strong community here that is focused on the safety of our police officers.”
Now Bryant and Chico are saying thank you to those who encouraged and assisted LaGrange police during the search for the K9 with the inaugural “Paw Day” event March 26 at Sweetland Amphitheatre on Smith Street.
Bryant said people will be able to meet the entire LPD K9 team: Officer Joshua Clower and his K9 partner, Deek; Cpl. Jeffrey Bryant and Rik; and Cpl. Mike Barton and his K9, Dax.
The team will hold two demonstrations during the Paw Day event to showcase what the K9s are trained to do with their handlers for the police department.
“They will do a drug search, track a ‘missing person,’ perform an article search and show obedience,” Bryant explained. “We’re going to take the focus off the dogs doing bite work. We want people to realize that these dogs have a lot more value than just an apprehension side of them.
“They are crossed trained. We get called out throughout Troup County and to nearby counties to help track missing adults or wanted felons.”
Bryant has worked for LaGrange police for 11 years and was the first female K9 officer on the department. She said she enjoys meeting people in the city and hopes Paw Day can help bridge a gap between law enforcement and the community.
“I feel like I have a good relationship with the citizens here in LaGrange. Most people here call me Miss Wendy, not Officer Bryant,” she said. “I feel like if we can all connect like that, we wouldn’t have some of the issues that you see going on in the news. “
“I want people to know that we are also focused on their safety, well-being, we will fight for their them and we are genuinely concerned for them … their grief and their heartache,” Bryant continued. “I know I come here to work and I want to put people at ease that their problems are going to be addressed and we are going to help them. Whether it is a burglary, or if it is an elderly lady who wants us to help unlock her door or look for her cat.”
Bryant said Paw Day will have events for adults and children.
The first 300 people through the gates at the new amphitheater will receive hot dogs, chips, a drink and a raffle ticket that could win prizes like jewelry, gift cards or dinner at Venucci’s.
Bryant said the first 250 kids at Paw Day will get a gift bag that contains an honorary police badge, a coloring book that was created by an LPD staff member and includes pictures of the K9 unit with their dogs, a “thank you note” from the K9s with their paw prints, crayons and other items.
“We hope the event opens up small children’s eyes that the police are here to help and not to harm,” she said.
According to Bryant, 300 T-shirts were also specially made for the event — as were calendars, at the community’s request — that feature the dogs and their handlers.
Paw Day will also feature a photo booth for folks to take pictures with the police dogs.
Bryant said the LaGrange Animal Shelter will be on hand with dogs waiting for homes. She said the first five have all adoption fees waived and the shelter will cover the cost to spay or neuter the pet.
The LaGrange Police Criminal Investigation Department will also be at the event to discuss ways to not be a target for crime.
Paw Day is free and open to the public.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.