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Thanks to donations, Miami Beach to get three new police dogs

The Miami Beach Police Department will soon welcome new officers — of the four-legged kind.

A group of local residents and supporters has pulled together enough money to donate three police dogs to the department.

The Miami Beach K9 Knights, an ad-hoc group formed by Dana and Peter Catalano, raised enough money for two police dogs. David Wallack, CEO of the popular Mango’s Tropical Cafe on Ocean Drive, also partnered with Coral Gables health-book author Richard Schulze to donate another dog.

“A lot of people don’t think about donating to their local police, but often times there are things the department needs that the budget doesn’t account for,” Schulze said.

In Miami Beach, there’s always a police dog on patrol. The department now has eight dogs. The majority are trained in a skill such as sniffing out bombs or drugs, as well as patrolling.

Capt. Henry Doce said the department needed three dogs, so the donation completes Miami Beach’s canine team.

“It helps out the officer. It helps out the canine officer. That canine team forms a bond,” he said. “They’re like our kids.”

Police canines are highly trained and cost about $10,000 each. Breeds such as German shepherds and Belgian Malinois are commonly used, but bloodhounds, Labrador retrievers and even springer spaniels sometimes join police forces, said Fred Janke, southeast region director of the National Police Canine Association, which certifies police dogs. The type of dog used depends on the job it will perform, he said.

“A lot of people think of dogs as just drug dogs. But that’s not it,” said Schulze. “Another great thing, too, is a lot of people will give up fighting with a dog ... I think everybody is afraid of a biting German shepard.”

He added: “You’d be surprised. The biggest guys will drop down and cry for momma.”

Wallack is a self-described “German Shepard person.” He became a fan of police dogs as a young man, after witnessing one take a bullet for a police officer when a friend’s house was robbed. He first donated a canine to Miami Beach after experiencing a bomb scare shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“There was a suitcase laying in the alley by Mango’s one day. And so immediately someone went up to it and said, ‘It’s vibrating.’ And so here come Miami Beach police and everything is evacuated for a block,” Wallack remembered. “It took four hours to get a bomb dog from Miami or wherever it was. ... It did point out that Miami Beach needed its own canine, bomb-trained dog.”

The department still has to pick a breeder and then pick which dogs they want, said Catalano, who started the K9 Knights group. The group is invitation-only. It currently has about 16 members, who each pay $1,000 toward the cause. He and his wife started the K9 Knights about a year ago.

“We have such a wonderful life, and it’s only possible because people are out there every day risking their lives for us. So you think about that, and you say, how can we give back?” Catalano said.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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