Tomah VA Medical Center
K9 Officer Joins Tomah VA Police
Thanks to the Wisconsin Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center is getting a new member of its police department – a canine officer. Officer Billy, a yellow Labrador retriever, will join the department following his training in nearby Viroqua.
“The Tomah (VA) Police Department would like to thank the Wisconsin Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for their generous donation of $2,500.00 for the initial startup of the Veterans Affairs Police K9 program,” said Deputy Chief Billy Carpenter. “The Wisconsin VFW also has pledged to donate an additional $2,500 in 2019 to assist with the upkeep of the program. The initial donated funds were used to supply the K9 program with dog food, kennels, veterinarian services and other equipment utilized to train the K9. The additional money will also be used for similar items.”
Those donations will help defer the cost of the VA budget for care of Billy.
The K9 program was introduced to assist the Tomah VA in providing enhanced safety for our Veteran population.
“There were two areas of concern. We saw and influx of dementia patients, patients of various degrees of mental health issues that come here for treatment and geographically where we lay, there are a lot of wooded areas and we thought by the time we called in outside resources , State Patrol, Tomah Police or Monroe County, to come and assist us on recovering or tracking a missing patient, we thought it would be great asset for us to have,” said Officer Philip Otto. The second was, we also have substance abuse, alcohol abuse, PTSD patients here on the facility and because of that unfortunately we saw an influx of narcotics being introduced here. We thought we could have the dog recover missing patients if possible also find, detect and ultimately deter narcotics at the facility.”
Otto, a five-year veteran of the Tomah VAPD, will work side by side with K9 Officer Billy and be his caregiver 24 hours a day.
While other canine officers will do narcotics, explosives, tracking and patrol work, Billy will focus only on narcotics and tracking. He is not trained to bite and is almost like a family pet.
Otto and Billy will train together for 240 hours including 40 hours of classroom training.
“There are only a handful of VAs nationwide that have a canine on sight. We are one of the newer programs. It has taken us over two years now just to get to this point and we are basically on the ground phase of it.”
According to Otto, having Billy as a part of the Tomah PD will provide a visual deterrent.
“Seeing a dog who is not an aggressive breed, adds to the safety and security of the Veterans, our employees, visitors and family members that come here knowing that we do have their best interest in mind.”
While Officer Billy is friendly, please ask his partner prior to petting him.
“He loves to get pet, we bring him to events but obviously we always ask the public that if they do see a dog, always ask the handler and we can go from there. Sometimes people do not feel like the police are approachable and this might be a bridge for Veterans or staff members to say, ‘hey here’s a dog, we have that in common’ and come pet the dog.”
For additional information about the Tomah VA Police operations, please call 608-372-1244.