Honoring Our Four-Legged Heroes

by Kari Apted

Porterdale hosts the country’s only known annual K-9 memorial event, helping police jurisdictions from across the world grieve for and pay homage to the service dogs they have lost.

The small mill town of Porterdale on the surface seems an unlikely place to host the country’s only known annual K-9 memorial event. However, it does not take long for people to realize that the tiny community boasts a giant heart, making it the ideal location to honor canine heroes from around the world. 

It all started in 2009, when Porterdale Police Chief Jason Cripps and his wife, Holly, organized a motorcycle fundraiser to buy bulletproof vests for their law enforcement officers. We Ride to Provide was initially established as a 501c3 nonprofit to allow people to make tax-deductible donations to help equip the Porterdale Police Department. Through the years, it has evolved into a global outreach program focused on police dogs and their needs.

WRTP now works to connect law enforcement officers with good police dog candidates. In addition, the charity helps officers obtain the necessary K-9 training for their animals and provides first-aid training and medical kits to service dogs throughout America and around the world. These emergency kits include bandages, electrolyte solutions and other first-aid supplies for dogs. Since 2011, Holly has packed and shipped over 3,000 K-9 first-aid kits. 

“One day I saw Beau sitting in the front of the patrol car and I thought, ‘When he dies, no one will know he’s been here if I don’t do something.’”

Holly Cripps, wife of Porterdale Chief of Police Jason Cripps

“We have 130 kits in Puerto Rico and have shipped kits to over 10 countries,” she said, “including Scotland, Switzerland, Brazil and Germany.” 

While the Cripps are proud of the number of K-9s they have been able to help, the annual memorial service holds the dearest place in Holly’s heart. She attributes her passion for the event to a special golden retriever named Beau. When the Cripps were searching for Porterdale’s first-ever police dog, a friend told them about Beau, a five-year-old obese diamond in the rough. 

“He was supposed to weigh 65 pounds, but he weighed 100,” Holly said. “His fur was so matted [that] we had to shave him.” 

The Cripps knew there was something genuinely special about Beau. The couple helped Beau regain his fitness and enrolled him in a K-9 training program. He soon became an outstanding drug-searching dog and could easily pinpoint which lockers held illegal substances during drug sweeps at schools. Beau also showed amazing skill in finding missing persons. The big, golden dog quickly made himself at home with the Cripps family, moving from his luxurious outdoor kennel into the house as soon as he could. 

“He ended up taking over my guest room—he made that king-sized bed his. He was such a gentleman and so kind with my grandchildren,” Holly said. “He was afraid of thunderstorms, though. I always had to hold him tight during storms.”

Beau

The Cripps’ personal experience with their first K-9 gave them a whole new appreciation for service animals. “One day,” Holly said, “I saw Beau sitting in the front of the patrol car and I thought, ‘When he dies, no one will know he’s been here if I don’t do something.’” The K-9 memorial service was born from the Cripps’ need to make sure Beau was never forgotten, but it now helps police jurisdictions around the world grieve for and memorialize their dogs.

“You’d often hear these old police chiefs saying, ‘It’s just a dog,’ but nobody says that anymore,” Holly said. “I often envision that the day Beau was born God placed a halo over his head and vowed to use him to make life better for police dogs around the world.”

The next WRTP K-9 Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, March 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Porter Memorial Gymnasium. The public is invited to attend. During the service, the Cripps will call out one-by-one the names of all the K-9s who reached their “End of Watch” last year—a term Holly prefers. Each K-9 handler will be presented with a custom memorial box and memorial flag. Dog “mommies” will be recognized for the vital role they played in caring for their animals while they were off duty. “K-9s usually live with their handler and their family, and dog moms are often the ones who get the K-9s ready for work,” Holly said. The night before the ceremony, Grace Baptist Church will host a dinner for the service participants and event volunteers. It has become a tradition and serves as an ice-breaker for K-9 handlers to meet others who have lost their cherished animals.

“For many officers, it’s their first chance to grieve with those who truly understand what they are going through,” Holly said. “The dinner helps them know that they are not alone.”

WRTP welcomes donations of any size to help accomplish the mission of saluting, caring for and memorializing these remarkable dogs. Holly’s policy is to never say no to police dogs, whether it relates to a request for a first-aid kit or a blue-light escort to their final resting place at their End of Watch—even if it means paying out of pocket for these expenses herself.

“There’s something extraordinary about K-9s,” Holly said. “Actually, I think there’s got to be a bigger word than ‘extraordinary’ to describe them. They’re so full of loyalty, passion and kindness. There is too much good in these dogs to ignore them. If I look into those big, brown eyes—they’re usually brown—and know there is a need, how can I look away?”

Dec. 28, 2016 marked the End of Watch for the Cripps’ beloved golden retriever, Beau. Though their hearts were broken, the Cripps knew it was time to let the elderly hero rest in peace. His flag-draped body was given a blue light escort from the veterinary clinic to the crematorium, his ashes memorialized in an urn and later worked into two glass sculptures. Holly continues to feel Beau’s spirit in everything she does to help other K-9s. One night after Beau passed away, a thunderstorm rolled in. Unable to sleep and accustomed to holding Beau during rainstorms, she found herself missing him terribly. She picked up his urn, took it back to her bed and held it close to her chest.

“It may sound crazy,” Holly said, “but that night, I swear I heard him bark.”

HOW TO HELP

  • Donate funds to purchase a K-9 first-aid kit. Each kit costs $110, which includes shipping and refreshing the kit’s supplies throughout the dog’s lifetime.
  • Purchase a Memorial Sponsorship. The $125 pays for one handler’s memorial shirt, a K-9 custom memorial box, a K-9 custom memorial flag, adding the fallen K-9’s name to the WRTP memorial trailer, the flower presented to the dog mommy and the catered dinner for the handler and their family or department members the night before the event.
  • Host a Facebook Fundraiser on your birthday and choose WRTP as the recipient. These donations help to pay for the incidental costs of running the charity, such as packing materials, printer ink and countless other expenses. The organization’s Facebook page is www.facebook.com/WRTPK9.
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