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Official memorial for Jon-Jon

by Sheila Gardner

Jon-Jon, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office beloved K9 officer killed in the line of duty, is to be memorialized Feb. 24 at an official service.

Sheriff Ron Pierini said Thursday he expects “a huge turnout” of K9 handlers and their dogs from across Nevada and the Western states.



“In the canine police culture, it is appropriate for a special memorial service for a dog,” Pierini said. “There hasn’t been an instance similar to ours where a dog lost its life in the line of duty. We found out it’s appropriate in this scenario to have a special service.”

Pierini said he couldn’t estimate how many canine handlers and their dogs might attend.



“Other events like this (in other states) attracted up to 2,000 participants,” he said.

Jon-Jon died Feb. 3 in an early morning patrol car fire.

His handler, Deputy Rick Koontz, and Deputy Dean Kumagai were investigating an intrusion alarm inside a building at Meridian Business Park when the Ford Crown Victoria burst into flames.

Due to the fire’s intensity, Koontz was unable to open a patrol car door to rescue Jon-Jon.

He broke out the car’s rear window, but the black Labrador retriever had died from smoke inhalation.

For critics who might question an official service for Jon-Jon, Pierini said the dog is recognized by Nevada Revised Statute as a law enforcement officer.

“If the dog is attacked, injured or killed, it’s treated the same as a regular deputy sheriff in the department,” Pierini said. “That’s what divorces that kind of idea that ‘it’s just a dog.’ They do give a lot, especially enforcement dogs. They can save an officer’s life and have in the past.

“They’re responsible for a large amount of arrests that happen. They make a huge impact in the department.”

He said details are to be worked out for the service and he encouraged residents to attend.

Pierini there has been an outpouring of community support for Jon-Jon and Koontz.

“It’s been wonderful. We have gotten lots of donations – up to 20 a day in the mail or people just coming to the window,” he said. “Yesterday, I opened up one letter yesterday with $500. Two donors are going to fund complete dogs.”

The K9 program, begun in 1994, is funded with private donations. The specially trained dogs cost $5,000 to $7,000.

The county pays for the deputy’s time and training, but the dogs’ expenses are covered by donations.

“We not only have the situation with Jon-Jon, but two of our other dogs are close to retiring,” Pierini said. “They have been with us for a long time. The big picture we have to look at is that we have to replace three dogs.”

Pierini said donations may not go specifically to Jon-Jon’s replacement, but are used only for the canine program.

Pierini said Jon-Jon’s remains have been turned over to Koontz.

“He’s still grieving,” Pierini said of the veteran patrol officer. “Unlike a lot of us who have pets, you might spend a relatively short time with them every day. But our deputies with patrol dogs spend 10 hours a day, four days a week and take them home.

“Witnessing the event also compounds the issue,” Pierini said.

Pierini said Koontz was touched by the condolences extended personally to him. Cards and flowers have been delivered to the sheriff’s office for the deputy.

Koontz addressed an assembly at Meneley Elementary School on Thursday to discuss the loss of his partner. Jon-Jon was a familiar face at the Gardnerville Ranchos elementary school, participating in assemblies and classroom presentations.

“Deputy Koontz expressed his appreciation of the love and support that has poured out from the community,” said teacher Janine Mello.

“The assembly offered the students a time to ask questions and offer their condolences. It was a time to share memories and provide closure. Jon-Jon can never be replaced and will remain in our hearts forever,” she said.

Pierini said the Nevada Fire Marshal’s Office which is investigating the blaze was emphatic that the fire started under the hood. But, Pierini said, the condition of the vehicle is so bad the cause may never be determined.

Whether Ford has any liability “is the million-dollar question,” Pierini said.

“If it was caused by a manufacturing problem, we obviously would pursue that. Because of the condition of the unit, it may be difficult to do so,” he said.

DETAILS

A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds for Jon-Jon, a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office patrol dog killed Feb. 3 in a vehicle fire. The public is invited to attend the event which is expected to attract canine handlers and their dogs from Nevada and other western states. Participants are to meet at the sheriff’s office at noon for a motorcade down Highway 395 to the fairgrounds off Pinenut Road.

DONATIONS

Donations to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office patrol and drug detection dog program may be made to the DCSO Canine Fund, c/0 Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, PO Box 218, Minden, 89423 or dropped off at the sheriff’s office in the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 1625 Eighth St., Minden.