Police mascot still loved? ROGeR that

lakewood: Dog named for four fallen officers now heads to early retirement

July 1, 2011 

ROGeR will spend his days chasing down Frisbees instead of bad guys.

A Tacoma couple, Jim and Gail Wells, donated the three-month-old German shepherd to the Lakewood Police Department after four of its officers were killed in November 2009.

He provided comfort to the department’s employees in the wake of the tragedy, officers said. And he became their unofficial mascot.

The department considered ROGeR for police work, but testing determined he didn’t quite have the aptitude to become a K-9 officer.

An early retirement was the next best option, so the Lakewood City Council last week authorized the sale of the dog, now 19 months old, to police officer Paul Osness and his family.

The sales price was a nominal $1 to prevent the city from making a gift of public property, which is prohibited under the state constitution. The sales agreement releases the city from incurring any expenses or claims related to ROGeR during his life.

Osness has had the dog at his home since early 2010. The officer volunteered to care for him with the understanding ROGeR would be assigned to a permanent partner if accepted to work as a police dog.

Osness said he tried to remain detached, knowing it was a “roll of the dice” whether ROGeR would be accepted.

Now ROGeR is an official member of the family, joining Osness, his wife, their two children and a mixed-breed golden Labrador named Dozer.

It was Osness’s wife who came up with ROGeR’s name, derived from the first letters of the last names of the four fallen officers. Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards were killed in a coffee shop ambush on Nov. 29, 2009 while preparing to start their shift.

“He’s a good dog, and he’s going to make a great pet,” Osness said.

Sgt. Andy Suver, supervisor of the department’s K-9 unit, said there’s no shame in ROGeR not working in law enforcement, as only a small fraction of dogs make the cut. Even dogs imported from Eastern Bloc countries specifically bred for police work can wash out.

Ultimately, Suver said, ROGeR doesn’t possess the “off-the-chart” drive required in police dogs.

“You can’t wonder if they want to be at work that day,” he said, adding later, “There’s no way to manufacture that upfront if that’s absent.”

The department has a tracking dog and two drug-sniffing dogs.

The verdict wasn’t unexpected for Gail Wells. ROGeR was the only male in a litter of seven puppies, born 17 days before the Lakewood police shootings.

“He was just a little too sweet,” she said. “I kind of felt that when he was growing up so it didn’t surprise me.”

Osness has brought ROGeR to the Wells’ home for several visits and called their donation an “amazing gesture.”

ROGeR is adjusting to family life, Osness said. Originally crate trained, he can now roam around more freely. To build his confidence for potential police work, Osness always let him win while playing tug-of-war or while wrestling with Dozer.

“Now he’s getting to learn, ‘oh, you’re the boss, not me,’” Osness quipped.

Osness said ROGeR enjoys fetching Frisbees thrown by his son.

ROGeR will remain the department’s informal mascot, and Osness may bring him to public events if requested.

Wells said she’s sorry that ROGeR didn’t make it as a police dog but knows he filled an important role during the department’s darkest days.

“We’re thankful that he could do what he did at the time,” she said. “I know he’s going to be loved always.”

Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 christian.hill@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street

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