Kristi Schiller says the story stopped her cold.
Watching a news broadcast about a grief-stricken Houston-area deputy who lost his K9 partner during a struggle with a suspect, the reporter mentioned there wasn’t enough money to give the officer a replacement pup. A self-described lover of both dogs and law enforcement, Schiller dug into her own pocket to pay for a new K9 partner for the deputy. That was four years and sixty dogs ago.
Police K9’s do important work, no one disputes that, but many police and sheriff’s departments are cash crunched and have been forced to cut K9s from the budget. The highly trained dogs can cost upwards of $15,000, just for the initial purchase. Schiller saw a need and vowed to fill it. She started K9s4COPS, a non-profit organization that buys and trains the dogs and then gives them away to law enforcement officers. Her first fundraiser was in her backyard. She began knocking on corporate doors all over Texas, asking for donations.
“Kristi Schiller is not a gal you say no to,” says a friend who became a supporter.
Any law enforcement agency can apply and Schiller has enlisted a handful of deputies and police officers who review the applications once a quarter and make recommendations. Those who receive good news travel to Houston to choose and train with their K9 partner before returning home as a team. Schiller’s dogs are now fighting crime in 17 states.
Pasadena, Texas Police Office Mark Brinker received his K9 partner, Austin, in January.
“It would be a whole different show without him,” Brinker says.
Schiller deflects the credit, “It’s amazing what they’ve done with what little I’ve given them.”
Instead, she wants to tell you about her next challenge, giving dogs to schools. The mom of a young daughter, Schiller has launched K9s4KIDS and has given away six so far to promote what she calls a safe learning environment.
Our message is being heard! The “pup”-blicity for K9s4COPs is reaching far and wide, thanks to recent national television and magazine features.
Ironically, it all started back on New Year’s Day with a larger-than-life, botanical K9 Johnny Cash parading down the streets of Pasadena, Calif., in the 125th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade.
Let me be perfectly honest, underwriting a Rose Parade float is an exorbitant undertaking—one I couldn’t begin to do without the sponsorship of Energy XXI—but it was the publicity that we needed to raise national awareness to our mission—raising money to purchase trained K9s for cash-strapped police departments, and now, school districts through our K9s4KIDs initiative.
Our Facebook “likes” and website hits grew exponentially. Then national media outlets picked up our story.
People magazine called. They featured K9s4COPs as part of their “Heroes Among Us” profiles. Our story was shared with nearly 50 million readers of America’s most popular celebrity news and human-interest magazine.
Shortly after People published the feature in their July 28th issue, we were honored to visit with award-winning broadcast journalist Janet Shamlian and her camera crew for feature on “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.”
Shamlian went behind the scenes with me and watched dogs become trained K9s at Houston K9 Academy for the segment, which aired on August 7. She also learned how valuable K9s are to community safety. K9s not only keep drugs and munitions off the street, but even more important, they help keep those defending our communities safe.
CultureMap Houston also plugged the People article for us, and just recently, the Houston Business Journal caught up with me for a short Q&A segment.
Now, we’re gearing up for a trip to New York City. My own personal protection K9—my “shadow sentential” Johnny Cash will ring the opening bell at NASDAQ stock exchange on September 8. He will be honoring the memory of K9 Sirius, who died in the line on duty at the World Trade Center on September 11th, and all the other gallant K9s and their handlers who put their lives on the line to keep us all safe.
The tragic story of a police K9 lost in the line of duty inspired the founding of an organization dedicated to improving the effectiveness of law enforcement and ensuring public safety.
Harris County Precinct 4 Deputy Ted Dahlin spent more than three years building up an intense level of trust with his partner.
The two had gone through rigorous training together, and out on patrol, Dahlin was secure in the knowledge that his partner would lay down his life to protect Dahlin’s if necessary, without question and without hesitation.
That’s what partners do—particularly, partners of the four-legged variety.
“When you’re on an eight- or 10-hour shift and you’re subject to call out 24/7, you spend a lot of time with your dog,” Dahlin said. “Once they’ve found that first or second bad guy who could have killed you if he wanted to, you learn to trust your K9.”
In the late afternoon hours of Dec. 22, 2009, Dahlin and his K9 partner, a 5-year-old Czech-German shepherd named Blek, responded to a burglary call. It was the last call Dahlin and Blek would ever work together. Two burglary suspects, surprised by the arrival of uniformed officers, had fled into a wooded area of north Houston. Blek went in after them, just as he was trained to do, but he didn’t come out.
One of the three burglary suspects, strangled Blek to death. Dahlin had lost his partner and his best friend.
“That night was very hard,” Dahlin remembers. “I spent more time with Blek than I did my family. When I lost him, it kind of took the wind out of my sails. “Really, all I wanted after that night was to see something good come from that horrible incident.” And in fact, something good would come from it.
Learning of Dahlin’s loss and Blek’s sacrifice while watching the evening news, Houston-area philanthropist and animal lover Kristi Schiller was moved to act. She called some politicians she knew and inquired about donating a new K9 to the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office. Her generous request was met with little more than questions and bureaucratic red tape. “I quickly found it wasn’t as easy to donate a dog as I thought it would be,” Schiller says.
Next, Schiller took to the Internet in search of some sort of charitable organization that could cut through the red tape and help her fulfill her wish of donating a K9. Again, she came up empty, but she did learn through her Internet search that more than a dozen law enforcement agencies, just in her home state of Texas, were in the process of trying to acquire K9s. She also learned that a trained K9 carried an initial price tag of between $15,000 and can surpass $25,0000, and that K9 unit budgets were often the first casualty of rough economic times within a police department.
“I saw a need that wasn’t being fulfilled and decided that I needed to do something to help. I decided that this was my calling,” Schiller says. “I sat my husband, John down and said I wanted to start a charity.”
In June 2010, Schiller founded K9s4COPs with the mission of raising charitable funds to acquire and donate trained K9s to law enforcement agencies in need. On March 27, 2011, the organization received its 501 (c)(3) non-profit status, and less than a month later, K9s4COPs made its first donation to the Harris County (Texas) Sheriff’s Department: “The Fab Four” K9 Boomer, K9 Fozzie, K9 Mikey and K9 Tamara.
Since then, K9s4COPs has grown exponentially. In 2011, the organization donated 15 K9s to two agencies in Texas. In 2012, the tally was 23 K9s to nine agencies in three new states. So far this year, K9s4COPs has gifted 29 K9s to 15 agencies in seven new states, and in just over two years since its inception has raised more than $3 million to support the cause.
“We’re filling a gap that counties and districts often can’t fill,” said Schiller. “We don’t want money to ever be an issue getting in the way of an officer having a K9 and performing the work they do in the community.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Department, recipient of K9s4COPs’ first-ever gift, has since received even more K9s from K9s4COPs, bringing the department K9 unit’s roster to 24 K9s.
Sgt. Mike Thomas has been with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department since 1985 and has spent the last 22 years working with the K9 unit. He’s worked his way from the bottom up— starting out as a bite-suit-wearing decoy during K9 training sessions and now serving as day- shift sergeant as well as training sergeant—and he’s seen the unit grow. Thanks to K9s4COPs, he says, the department’s K9 unit has almost tripled in size in the time he’s worked there.
The addition of all those well-trained dogs has benefitted not only the department and the officers they patrol with. More importantly, it’s benefitted the community as a whole—and the benefit is quantifiable.
“Those 24 dogs that K9s4COPS have donated have improved the quality of life for the citizens of Harris County,” he says. “You think about the felony suspects they’ve taken off the streets, the dope they’ve taken off the streets. One of our dogs in the last month has taken $6 million dollars worth of drugs off the street, and I have several that have taken over $4 million. What chairtable investment gives you that kind of return?”
Deputies Alex Chapa and Daniel Kerrigan are two of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department officers who have benefitted from the generosity of K9s4COPs. Both took a trip with Sgt. Thomas and other deputies to a kennel several states away to select their donated K9 partners.
For Kerrigan, who had never owned a dog before and went to the kennel with no preconceived notions, the selection of Dutch shepherd K9 Bailey, dual trained for patrol and narcotics detection, was all about the eye test. Chapa, on the other hand, had more of a predetermined idea about the qualities he would look for in a new partner.
“Going in, I knew I wanted a smaller dog,” Chapa said. “I’m about 5 feet 8 inches, 185 pounds or so, and I didn’t want a dog that would drag me through the woods or knock me off my feet. I needed a pocket rocket with high drive”
Chapa found his perfect match in Rocco, a Belgian Malinois with specialized training as a patrol K9 and in explosive detection.
“K9 Rocco was probably the smallest dog I saw, but he had the biggest attitude out of all of them. He was everything I wanted: a small dog with a crazy motor.”
Both deputies agree that the K9 partners they’ve received through the generosity of K9s4COPs are helping them perform their duties better and more confidently.
“At the sheriff’s office, we don’t have two-man units, so this is the best you could ask for,” Chapa said. “You always have someone there that has your back. If somebody’s trying to fight me or hurt me, I’ve always got Rocco there to have my back. I’ve got my own support 24/7.”
Kerrigan learned very early on in his career with the K9 unit that the sense of security Chapa describes can turn very real.
Just out of K9 school, Kerrigan and K9 Bailey saw their first real-world deployment when they were called with other officers to respond to a home invasion. Gunfire was exchanged, and the armed suspect fled into a wooded area. After a good deal of searching through the brush, Kerrigan and his dog located the suspect, who turned his gun on Kerrigan. That’s when Kerrigan’s K9 partner went into action, bursting toward the armed suspect, hitting him hard in the arm and knocking the gun loose. The suspect was taken into custody, and Kerrigan and his K9 lived to serve another day.
Now having served with K9 Bailey for two years, Kerrigan has developed a keen appreciation for the abilities of these brave service dogs. “They are invaluable partners in the war on crime. We could not be out there protecting the citizens of the largest County in the US without these finely trained dogs.”
“Since I became a K9 handler, my ability to catch suspects is probably two or three times what it was before. And that’s just one handler,” he says. “The HCSO K9 unit has more than multiplied ten fold in size in the two years I’ve been here, so if you factor in the money seizures, the narcotics seizures, the fleeing suspects we’ve caught, the armed suspects we’ve taken off the streets and you multiply that times the two dozen dogs we’ve gotten, that’s a lot of bad guys K9s4COPS has taken off the streets through their gifts to us.”
Besides the physical gift of police K9s, the K9s4COPs organization is also providing a valuable service to law enforcement in the area of training. This past October, K9s4COPs hosted its first Texas K9 Officers Conference and Trials in Houston, bringing in subject matter experts from around the U.S. to share knowledge with the 175 K9 officers who attended. The officers were able to learn new techniques and gain valuable TCLEOSE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education) certification hours. This inaugural conference was such a success that plans are already being made for a larger conference annually.
On the conference’s final day, 50 K9/handler teams had the opportunity to let off a little steam and put their abilities on display at the Hard Dog Fast Dog Competition at Thorne Stadium in Houston. K9 competitors were put to the test and judged on the power and strength with which they could hit a bite-suit-clad decoy (Hard Dog) and how fast they could run (Fast Dog).
Fittingly, it was two well-trained K9s4COPs-donated dogs from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department that took home top honors in the competition. Alex Chapa’s partner K9 Rocco posted a 33 mph sprint time to win Fast Dog, and Daniel Kerrigan’s partner K9 Bailey finished off a dead run by putting a ferocious hit on a decoy to take Hard Dog honors.
While the event was a lot of fun for the participants and for members of the public who gathered to cheer on the competitors, Chapa noted that the K9s4COPs Hard Dog Fast Dog Competition provided more than just entertainment value.
“Basically, we were competing in what we do,” he said. “You know, we don’t really get graded on the job. They just tell you, ‘Hey good job’ or, ‘hey you caught the bad guy.’ Getting to see the other dogs work and getting to meet other handlers from all over Texas gave me something to work on moving forward.”
Standing with K9s4COPs founder Kristi Schiller and receiving their Hard Dog and Fast Dog awards at midfield of Thorne Stadium, Kerrigan and Chapa were able to reflect on the real value of Schiller’s young organization—both to themselves personally and to the community at large.
“I know for sure if it wasn’t for K9s4COPs, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Chapa noted. “Certainly without KK’s vision, our K9 unit wouldn’t be as strong as it is.”
“It’s really cool that we get to work with dogs,” Kerrigan said. “But when you break it down to what it’s really accomplishing, it’s a lot bigger than just more cops with dogs. It’s safer people.”
“While I’ve benefitted from having the K9 they donated,” he said. “I think our community has benefitted even more—the good guys in the community, anyway.”
Every time I learn of another school shooting I can’t help but think what if a K9 had been present?
Teachers packing heat aren’t the answer. They underpaid superheroes to begin with; they don’t need this added responsibility. Even if they’re certified to carry, do they have to time to go the range and maintain their skills? I’m fortunate enough to have my own gun range and know what it takes to remain proficient with firearms. It takes work! I could not imagine trying to maintain that precision while trying to herd 25 screaming first graders!
What happens when children are hit with “friendly fire” from a person with the very best of intentions? You can control a weapon but what about those children around it? Who is going to stop a panicking child from running where they shouldn’t? That’s the teachers job. Keeping them out of harm’s way not inadvertently putting them there!
What if the weapon falls into the hands of a child? Or one of those students on edge that are often at the heart of theses tragic shootings?
I believe K9s are the deterrents we should be seeking. A K9 isn’t going to stop an active shooter situation, but he can sure buy an extra 45 seconds for those seeking safety or signal when someone’s entering campus with gunshot residue on their hands or firearms, or heaven forbid, explosives, in their backpacks! It’s already well documented as to how successful K9s are at keeping drugs off of campuses, why should firearms be any different?
People DO NOT realize how highly trained these dogs truly are! They might not be able to “detect crazy” but trust me their instincts on crazy are way better than ours! How many times have we seen stories where household pets have alerted their owners to dangerous situations? How about the dog that warned the family off of the abusive babysitter? The dogs, on their own, have that instinct. K9s are selected for that superior trait and it’s honed to perfection through training.
Take our own “Shadow Sentinels,” our personal protection K9s. I can’t fathom the safety of my child without her “ninja nanny.” My daughter Sinclair is 40 pounds, dripping wet. If someone was to grab her and starting running, there’s not much she can do. With K9 Daisy at her side, the odds of a stranger danger dramatically decrease.
All it takes is one code word (usually in Czech, Dutch or German) to put Daisy in stealth mode. She locks on an assailant to give Sinclair a chance to get free. When the code word for stop is engaged, she immediately stops and goes back to family pet mode. Again, the switch is immediate, from jaws clamped around an attacker one second to being attacked by pets and praise by a group of children in another.
K9s4KIDs may not be the best answer, but until someone comes up with a better one that doesn’t involve outfitting our kids in heavy Kevlar backpacks, I’m not budging.
Kristi Schiller, the engaging head of K9s4COPs, helps cash-strapped law enforcement agencies buy top-notch police dogs
Kristi Schiller was watching the 10 p.m. news when the grief-stricken figure of Harris County deputy constable Ted Dahlin filled her TV screen.
It was clear what had happened: Man and dog had been in pursuit of burglary suspects when the dog sped ahead. The highly trained canine cornered at least one of four young men, but a fifth came up from behind and choked the dog to death.
That December 2010, Schiller started learning as much as she could about police dogs and their officers. She hoped Dahlin’s dog, Blek, would be replaced swiftly, but she discovered that was highly unlikely. Dahlin would have to do desk duty until he himself could scrape up the $15,000 it would take to replace his partner. And fundraising efforts tended to be low-wattage affairs – bake sales, barbecues and car washes.
Schiller, a lifelong volunteer, decided to wade in. In 2010, she started K9s4COPs, a non-profit group that helps law enforcement agencies here and across the country buy top-quality police dogs. Today, K9s4COPs has put more than 90 canines on the streets, and in 2013 Schiller started the initiative, K9s4KIDs, which is helping to beef up security at school campuses across the nation.
Early on, Schiller and her husband, Oil and Gas Chairman, John Schiller, personally underwrote the program. Over time, however, generous Houstonians and law enforcement officers from across the country have opened their wallets, too.
Supporters want to strengthen the ties between communities and the men and women who work to keep them safe.
Also, it’s hard to resist Schiller and her king shepherd, Johnny Cash.
The dog, who doubles as a mascot and security guard, is 140 pounds and an expressive, gentle giant. At 41, Schiller still looks like the media personality and model she used to be. She’s been compared to both Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball. She looks like Monroe, acts like Ball and makes visitors feel as if they are a part of her high-society world.
She’s all business, however, when she’s talking about the important roles dogs play in police work.
“Sadly, Blek died,” Schiller says, “but Ted Dahlin went home to his wife and children.”
READY FOR FAME
Schiller grew up in Brazosport, where, she says, the road meets the Gulf of Mexico. Her family was in the offshore-boat business, and she ate raw oysters for after-school snacks.
After attending the University of Houston, Schiller took a job in an early version of entertainment TV.
The show, “Day and Date,” was canceled after 13 weeks, but Schiller couldn’t imagine failure when she arrived in the Big Apple to start work. Her maiden name was Hoss, and she introduced herself to everyone she met: “I’m Kristi Hoss, and I’m going to be famous in about a week.”
After a few months, she was back in Houston, working at radio station KL0L, 101 FM, where she dished out entertainment news and relationship advice starting at 5 a.m.
On the air she was known as “Lucy Lipps” Her voice was her calling card of her funny, put you at ease, on-air persona. Schiller always had an interest in technology and social media, her reputation grew.
Forbes magazine named her “Queen of the Internet” in 1998.
“I loved it,” Schiller says. “And then I realized things were getting out of control. People knew me, and I didn’t know them.” You get somewhat paranoid when people approach you and you see the look in their eyes like they feel they have a connection because they listen to you every day.
“I moved to New Orleans.” She wanted to adventure to an unfamiliar territory, Schiller briefly worked as a stockbroker. “But that didn’t last,” she says.
In the matchmaking department, Schiller was surprisingly effective – she fixed up nine couples who actually got married. But she herself was single, rich in friends but poor in boyfriends. Then, when she was 29, a friend tried to fix her up. “Oh, honey,” she told him, “this isn’t going to work. I’m the matchmaker. I fix up other people”
Finally, however, Schiller agreed to meet the Oil and Gas wildcatter who would be her future husband. It was July 2001, a hurricane was brewing in the Gulf, and the French Quarter was a monsoon.
“John was completely wigged out at the rising water,” Schiller says. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve lived through 150 hurricanes. We will be fine.”
The date only lasted an hour, but both were smitten. They met again the next week, and they’ve been together ever since.
Sinclair, their daughter, was born in 2006. She was 6 in 2012.the year of the Sandy Hook, Conn., school shooting That’s when Schiller decided to start K9s4KIDs, which she is hoping to expand along with K9s4COPs.
She is not opposed to guns – she’s a member of the National Rifle Association and has a license to carry. But, she says, she is a proponent of stricter gun laws. As well as, one protection dog is a better investment than a school full of armed teachers.
“Teachers are underpaid heroes,” Schiller says, “but they’re not in the business of reading, writing and Remingtons. When they were hired, nobody asked them, ‘How’s your aim?’ ”
EXPANDING HER CHARITY
Today hundreds of volunteers are involved in Schiller’s organization.
One is Bill Stanton, who describes himself as a private eye and former NYPD cop from the Bronx.
“Kristi reminds me of a modern-day Lucille Ball – she creates a tornado wherever she goes. But it’s a tornado for good, and her energy and enthusiasm are infectious. She has this Southern comforting, down-home-iness that people just love.”
Sgt. Mike Thomas, in charge of the canine unit for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, appreciates Schiller’s can-do attitude.
“She may have a ditzy, blond persona in public, but she’s extremely intelligent, and she’s learned the dog business,” Thomas says. “People respect that.”
Early on, the sergeant says, Schiller gave his department five dogs. They were trainable but the equivalent of C students, he says. Later, Thomas took Schiller to a vendor in the mid-west and showed her where he prefers to buy police dogs. In the middle of the kennel tour, she grabbed him.
“I’m sorry, so sorry,” Schiller told him. “I just realized I went to the Dollar Store to buy the officers dogs, when I should be sending them to the Neiman Marcus of training. These are the dogs that you need.”
To Thomas and the dozens of other lawmen and -women whom Schiller has helped, she’s a living, breathing superhero.
“Of course I’m not,” Schiller says. “The heroes are the men and ladies that are in uniform.”
HOW TO HELP
K9s4COPs welcomes donations to help purchase and train dogs, provide instructions and certifications for canine handlers, and pay for dog food and veterinary care. For more information, call 936-825-9900 or go to K9s4COPs.org.
Kristi Schiller talks all things K9s4COPs with Houston P.A.
Click here to download the MP3 of the interview.
Flu medications, or maybe an adrenalin fueled lack of sleep, make you have the weirdest dreams. In color. With surround sound. And the smell … simply divine!
I had the most vivid dream that K9s4COPS was in the Tournament of Roses Parade!
But it wasn’t a just a dream…it was dream that came true. K9s4COPs was honored as one of the only 42 floats in the 125th Tournament of Roses Parade.
Most. Amazing. Day. EVER!!!!!
The experience was surreal and I didn’t want it to end! My beloved friend Jenna Jackson’s P&R Productions crew captured every moment from the building of the float to our stroll down Colorado Avenue in Pasadena, California.
We participated in the Rose Parade to draw attention to the great work that our K9 officers and their handlers do serving our communities and to share our mission to provide agencies and schools with highly trained K9s. We wanted to share our story, our mission, with the world. I’m pleased to say the response was overwhelming!
Our message was heard from coast to coast, from the front page of our hometown Houston Chronicle to international media outlets. It was a headline ticker on Yahoo News and featured across the pond to the BBC in England! Our message has reached over a Billion people! This has quickly secured our position as the Rose Bowl Parade’s “Fan Favorite”
On ABC, Hanna Storm and Josh Elliot knocked it out of the park with their coverage of our float. (Plus, they said our float was their favorite of the entire parade.) They shared our story, from that horrible December when Officer Ted Dahlin lost his partner K9 Blek to the ever growing number of K9s which have been placed with various law enforcement agencies and educational campuses.
Through such incredible world-wide visibility, K9s4COPs gained almost 40,000 new followers immediately following the Rose Parade and added many new members to our Woof Pack, so all in all it was a great success! You too can join the Woof Pack at www.K9s4COPs.org/donate.
I’m not about to let this much visibility for K9s4COPs go to waste and we’re already planning next year’s float. We are beyond thankful for the generous donations that made this year’s float possible and we’re already looking for that special sponsor that wants to join us in front of more than a billion viewers on New Year’s Day.
This is my dream coming true…every day. With the generous support of countless businesses and individuals and the tireless work of our dedicated team, K9s4COPs has come a long way in just three years, but our mission is far from over.
I tell people I’m too stupid to know what’s impossible. I have ridiculously large dreams, and half the time they come true.
By the way, if anyone finds a glass slipper along Colorado Boulevard, please return it to Texas!!!
This year’s tournament of roses parade will mean a lot to canine patrols and houstonians. K9s4COPs.org will be featured on one of the parade floats. Here’s the back story on the one-of-a-kind local non-profit.
It is no easy feat to get a float in the new year’s day tournament of roses parade. This year a local Houston charity will be part of the impressive line-up
If you watched this year’s tournament of roses parade, you might have seen a bit of Houston represented. Local non-profit, K9s4COPs, was featured on one of the floats. More about how the impressive organization got started.
An impressive non-profit makes it into this year’s tournament of roses parade and takes the honors of “Fan Favorite”
A new AP article on K9s4COPS and making schools safer:
“While some say school safety hinges on guns, cameras or alarms in classrooms, Mark Gomer and Kristi Schiller think specially trained dogs should take point in preventing violence in schools.”
Fox Los Angeles’ coverage today of the float progression.