By Officer Jason Vodnik
In January, I was thrilled to learn about a new public art project conceived by the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and PAWS Chicago. The project, K9s for Cops, which features life-size statues of German Shepherd police dogs that are artistically designed by local artists, resonated with me as an Oak Forest police officer and former partner of K9 Orry, whose end of watch was January 19, 2016. K9 Orry served six years by my side with the Oak Forest Police Department and enjoyed four years in retirement with me and my family. We miss him dearly.
K9s for Cops is a tribute to the important work that police dogs perform every day to solve crimes and keep communities safe. The campaign was created to memorialize Chicago’s heroes while supporting the families of police officers that have been killed or catastrophically injured in the line of duty. Additionally, a portion of the proceeds will be earmarked for PAWS Chicago to benefit the rescue and adoption of dogs in the city.
With the help of the Oak Forest Police Association and other volunteers, I created the Oak Forest Police K9 Memorial Facebook page and an online donation account to draw attention to our efforts to raise the necessary funds to purchase a K9s for Cops statue. In only one month, we not only secured the minimum donation of $2,000 for the physical statue, but also surpassed the additional $500 needed to bring the statue home after it’s displayed on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile from July 23 to September 4. The additional funds will be used to create a permanent display site at City Hall.
A local K9 memorial is not a new concept. More than a decade ago, Sergeant Scott Durano, who truly is the “Godfather” of our department’s K9 Unit talked about creating a memorial to our police dogs in some way. Scott and his partner K9 Dakota – end of watch January 2, 2008 – were our department’s first K9 team. As the K9 program administrator, Scott was extremely organized in all aspects of the job including, budgeting, training, field work, and public relations. Scott and Dakota set the standard and blazed the trail. Although a tall order, it was my privilege to keep the program running and try to improve upon it in any way.
Since its inception, Oak Forest residents have been huge supporters of our K9 program and its four-legged officers – Dakota, Orry and Pitt (retired), which is why I set out to be a part of K9s for Cops. I knew it would be important to our residents, city and police department to honor our deceased K9s with a statue of our very own.
Our residents, especially children, always enjoyed meeting our police dogs at events such as, DARE program activities, National Night Out, Community Awareness Fair, block parties, or park district gatherings. In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to find a resident in town that hasn’t had contact with one of our K9s in some way. Our K9 program was successful because our police dogs were highly trained to carry out their job functions, but social enough to interact with the community in a meaningful way.
Personally, I enjoyed when people would ask to play tug of war with K9 Orry – thinking they would win. I always made a point to reassure the children so that they would not be too disappointed when they lost. No one could beat K9 Orry. He never let go of his tug unless he was told do so.
There are so many people who made our quest for a statue possible; however, it all started with the approval of the Oak Forest Police Department administration and our elected officials. Mayor Kuspa and Alderman Clemons have been very supportive of this effort and have actively assisted in its success. Financially, the donations ranged widely. Residents made donations of $1 up to $500. Local businesses and more than one school group also contributed to the campaign. The school groups were especially meaningful since our K9s had so much interaction with the students.
Aside from the monetary donations, we are extremely thankful to resident Tom Ceska, who donated his time and talent to paint our statue. A professional artist for more than 30 years, Tom is a proud member of Chicago Brushmasters and an Automotive Artist for Charity. Tom has participated in previous public art projects including, the “Horses of Honor” for the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and the “Tartan Art on the Avenue” giant golf ball exhibit to benefit Ronald McDonald Charities. Our German Shepherd statue is in good hands as Tom’s passion and creativity are second to none when it comes to extraordinary charitable endeavors.
I hope as many residents as possible can enjoy a day downtown in Chicago to see our statue and snap a selfie! It would be great to fill our Facebook page with selfies and group photos. But, for those who cannot take the trip downtown, I will let you know as soon as the statue is on display at City Hall. It will be a proud homecoming and one much deserved for a K9 program that has had a profound impact on our community.
Officer Jason Vodnik
Oak Forest Police Department