K9 cop social media storm brings windfall to dog-protection outfit
04/07/2016 11:44 am PDT
His name is "Ajax," and he's a crime-fighting canine who patrolled the streets of Marietta, Ohio. But Ajax would also end up in the middle of a messy fight that blew up on social media.
Retired police officer Matt Hickey and his loyal K9 partner Ajax patrolled the streets of Marietta together for four years.
"He's always 'got my six,' he's always watching my back," said Hickey.
And to Hickey, Ajax is far more than a trusted partner.
"This is the son I never had," said Hickey. "He's just a member of the family. He does everything with us."
So when Hickey planned to retire after a distinguished 33-year career, he offered to pay the city $3,500 to keep Ajax, the appraised value Hickey says his police chief came up with.
"We contacted our family and friends, and raised the $3,500," said Hickey.
But city officials said no.
"I get a call from the Fraternal Order of Police state representative, he said 'I got a call from the other K9 officer who has been ordered to come up to your house to take away your dog,'" said Hickey.
Hickey was stunned.
"I called the chief, I said 'What are you doing? Don't you understand -- I want the dog. What's the problem?" said Hickey.
The problem, it turns out, was that Ajax was still on active duty.
Ohio state law allows a handler to buy his police K9 for one dollar when the dog is retired; but that same statute says that when an officer leaves the K9 unit, and the dog is still fit for duty, the officer forfeits the right to purchase the animal.
So city officials considered Ajax government property and planned to auction him off to the highest bidder.
"That just sounds so wrong to me, to auction off a living, breathing thing like you would a desk or a chair," said Sandra Hickey, Matt's wife.
Sandra, herself a 30-year city employee, was furious.
"They were lucky my parents raised me to bite my tongue and not get physical," said Sandra. "My fear was that my husband has made some enemies in his career. What if somebody bought Ajax that didn't like my husband and tortured him or mistreated him? You can't just let anybody buy a police dog. You can't do that."
A family friend of the Hickeys got wind of the city's plans and took to Facebook to vent their frustration. That same night Marietta resident Corey Orr, who at that point had never even met the Hickeys, saw the Facebook post and started a GoFundMe campaign.
"I was friends with the person that originated the Facebook post," said Orr. "When I learned there was going to be an auction, and knowing the prices could go up to an amount they might not be able to afford, I decided to start the GoFundMe campaign, thinking, 'Well, a couple thousand dollars here and there wouldn't hurt,' and it took off like a rocket," said Orr.
That's putting it mildly: In just a few weeks the GoFundMe campaign raised more than $70,000.
"I was overwhelmed 'cause these people we don't know," said Sandra Hickey. "And some of these people were donating a $100 and $50, and to me that's a lot of money to give to someone you don't even know."
Matt Hickey says after 20 years as a beat cop on the graveyard shift, the overwhelming support restored his faith in humanity.
"Lots of things go on in the dark and you don't meet a whole lot of good people," said Matt. "I was jaded, I accepted the fact that most people are not good. Saw Facebook go crazy over this issue, blew my mind. It made me understand that there's a lot more good people out here than bad people."
And after raising so much cash, in the end, Hickey didn't even need it. Once the story went viral, city officials backed away from their proposed auction and agreed to sell Ajax to Matt Hickey for just one dollar.
After GoFundMe deducted its fees, Officer Hickey presented the remaining proceeds to Massachusetts-based Vested Interest in K9s.
Founded by Sandy Marcal, the non-profit organization provides customized bullet- and stab-protective vests for police dogs, free of charge for departments that can't afford them.
"I know these departments had budgetary constraints and weren't able to provide equipment for these dogs that put their lives on the line, and I thought it was imperative," said Marcal, president of Vested Interest in K9s Inc.
"Vested Interest is a great group," said Hickey. "They do such a good job all over the United States."
And now this real-life Turner and Hooch team will forever be partners.
"I was heartbroken when I thought I was going to lose Ajax," said Matt Hickey.
"Oh, tears every day and every night," said Sandra Hickey. "Ajax is like a child to us."
"I couldn't see myself being separated from Ajax, I couldn't see my family being separated from Ajax," said Matt.
Sandy Marcal reports that Vested Interest has reached $100,000 in donations, and the organization is asking for K9 officers to apply for bullet-/stab-protective vests for the dogs.
There are approximately 30,000 US working law enforcement dogs in the U.S. Vested Interest in K9s Inc. has donated vests for more than 1,800 of these brave heroes. Thousands more need help. Help Vested Interest in K9s Inc. spend $100,000.00 by sharing this post.
They are seeking four-legged K9 Officers in need of bullet/stab protective vests who meet this criteria: 1. K9 is at least 20 months of age, 2. K9 team is certified together 3. K9 team is actively working in the USA. If you or a law enforcement officer you know meets this criteria and is in need of a vest for their partner, please review or pass along this information to officers who may be in need.