Hometown Heroes: Nonprofit keeping K-9s safe on the job

  • Big Island K9 Association chair Tammy Passmore distributes care kits for working canines. Courtesy photo

  • Veterinarian Kristina Henricks provides canine first aid training for handlers of working police dogs at the Big Island K9 Association’s first event Feb. 25 at Makaeo Pavillion. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Police K-9 units gather to learn about canine first aid at Big Island K9 Association’s first event Feb. 25 in Kailua-Kona. (photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Big Island working K-9s have a new benefactor dedicated to providing the funding to bridge the gap between what they need and what they get.

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Hawaii Island K9 Association received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in August, and since the group has been working hard to secure funds to augment the current budgetary constrictions the Hawaii Police Department K-9 units face.

“We raise funds and write grants to get money to provide kennels, equipment, training, the dogs and anything to support them because their budgets are always so small,” said the association’s chairperson and co-founder Tammy Passmore.

Currently, the Big Island has seven working K-9s in the police department with four on the west side and three on the east side. Working with their handlers, five of the canines are narcotics dogs and two are live find search-and-rescue dogs used to track missing juveniles and adult Alzheimer’s patients.

“I formed the association because we didn’t have anything on the Big Island for the working K-9,” said Passmore. “There’s all the rescue organizations that do the adoptions and get them what they need but nobody to help working K-9.”

She knew of this need first hand because her husband is a Hawaii County police officer who has been a K-9 handler.

“They need extra training, they need extra equipment, they need extra dogs, so that’s where we step in,” she said.

On Feb. 25, all seven K-9s and their handlers gathered at Makaeo Pavilion at Old Kona Airport Park for their first event. Board member and veterinarian Kristina Henricks provided training on administering canine first aid. Donated canine first aid kits and nasal Narcan kits, along with dog toys and leashes were distributed while Henricks explained how the handlers could stabilize their injured partner so they could get the dog to the nearest animal hospital.

Police Capt. Thomas Shopay attended the Feb. 25 event, and said the training was a step in the right direction.

“We provide first aid and support for our officers. The K-9s are officers too. We need to treat them like family,” he said.

Passmore said fundraising has been a challenge because of the pandemic, but she is hopeful the community will step up to help them reach their goals.

Because nobody on the Big Island raises and trains working dogs, the units have to travel off island to get the K-9s and receive training.

Passmore said one of the live tracking dogs is ready to retire and they are working to secure funding to replace him.

“We are trying to raise the $10,000 to buy the canine. And that’s at a discount,” she said, noting the dogs usually come with a $20,000 price tag.

In addition to the police K-9 unit, they are able to supply the dogs to the fire department, sheriffs, and prosecutor’s office.

“The fire department used to have one canine, but he retired two-three years ago,” she said. “At this time the fire department isn’t ready to start another one, but when they are we will be there to help them.”

“We need to support these working K-9s so they can go out and do their job to support the community,” said Passmore. “The life line tracking canines need to go find missing kids and assist in that way. We need to support them because if they have no budget to get anything then they can come out and serve in the community.”

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For more information or to make a donation, visit www.hik9s.org.

Know a Hometown Hero who should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.

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