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.
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 44 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 $1,000 Kevlar backpacks or blankets, 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 2009, 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 $10,000 to $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 nonprofit group that helps law enforcement agencies here and across the country buy top-quality police dogs. Today, K9s4COPs has put more than 60 canines on the streets, and an offshoot, K9s4KIDs, is helping to beef up security at nine school campuses across the state.
Early on, Schiller and her husband, Energy XXI chairman and CEO John Schiller, 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 43, 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.
“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 snacks.
After earning a degree in broadcast journalism from 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, and partly because of her easy on-air persona and partly because of her interest in technology and social media, her reputation grew.
Forbes magazine named her “Queen of the Internet” in 1997.
“I loved it,” Schiller says. “And then I realized things were getting out of control. People knew me, and I didn’t know them.”
Schiller briefly worked as a stockbroker.
“But that didn’t last,” she says. “So I moved to New Orleans.”
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 30, a friend tried to fix her up. “Oh, honey,” she told him, “this isn’t going to work. I’m the matchmaker.”
Finally, however, Schiller agreed to meet the wildcatter who would be her future husband. It was July 2001, a hurricane was brewing in the Gulf, and the French Quarter was flooding.
“John was completely wigged out,” Schiller says. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve lived through 150 of these things.’ ”
The date didn’t last long, 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, one protection dog is a better investment than a school full of armed teachers.
“They 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 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 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 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 Indiana 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 dogs, and this is Saks Fifth Avenue. These are the dogs that you need.”
To Thomas and the dozens of other lawmen and -women whom Schiller has helped, she’s a hero.
“Of course I’m not,” Schiller says. “The heroes 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 713-523-COPS or go to K9s4COPs.org.
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!
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 animal float of the 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 4,000 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.
Our float may not have won any awards this year, but we’ll just see about that next year. Once bestowed, a coveted spot in the Rose Parade is a lifetime honor—should we choose to accept.
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 2015.
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!!!
On December 14, 2012, countless parents across the country had to fight the urge to go to their children as soon as the heard the news of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The senseless murder of 26 people—20 precious children and six adults—rocked our nation.
The tragedy was a call to action for many, including myself. I listened to concerned parents debate the gun control versus guns in school paradigm and I read K9s4COPs’ applications requesting trained K9s for campus protection.
Working together to protect our communities through K9s4COPs meant protecting our children too, and the K9s4KIDs initiative was launched with the mission of providing highly-trained K9s to school districts and college campuses free of charge.
Many people think what good is a K9 in a shooting?
The mere presence of a trained K9 and their handler is a deterrent of any untoward activity whether it is physical violence or criminal doings. Statistics prove this over and over again.
If K9s trained in drug detection can keep schools drug-free, what can one trained in munitions detection do? They can keep guns and explosives off school property and away from our children!
You smell like gunpowder? YOU CAN’T COME IN!
And HEAVEN FORBID, a K9 is sent to disengage a shooter … that highly-qualified warrior can buy precious time for the innocent to flee or seek shelter. Even if just one life is saved, a K9 will have done its job.
As we reflect on the tragic event of last December, K9s4KIDs is moving forward, and through K9s4Cops, has already placed three K9s within two school districts.
There is a kinder, gentler alternative to school safety that doesn’t invade privacy and doesn’t force teachers into decisions that no human being should be asked to make and it’s K9s4KIDs.
The greatest attribute a child and dog has is their sense of fear. No one can detect “Stranger Danger” like our family K9s.
In watching these K9s go from warrior to pet in a matter of seconds, I knew that the very K9s that aid law enforcement and protect our families should be the ones protecting our children in schools.
With that in mind, K9s4Kids was created as an alternative, kinder and gentler approach to keeping our school children safe.
A socially-tuned K9 allows these precious angels a place of learning where they can embrace their innocence. Statistics show that a trained K9 on campus serves as a double deterrent, keeping narcotics from being distributed and serving as a personal protection barrier between potential harm to our innocent students.
These K9s are extremely social, yet highly qualified warriors that are accustomed to going straight to the source of the dilemma—the shooter or threat—and disengaging the suspect.
In my vision I see returning war veterans with K9 handling experience finding a new role with their local school districts providing protection for our most vulnerable citizens.
Bottom line—if these heroic dogs can buy just an extra 30 seconds of time between an armed assailant and an innocent child, just imagine how many victims of these senseless shootings would still be with us!