Police dog handlers want to be paid when dogs are off-duty

SHARE Police dog handlers want to be paid when dogs are off-duty

8-13-08 John Barloga, officer with Cook County Sheriffs Police Bomb Squad, leads his partner, Yxa, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois through an exercise twesting her sniffing skills Wednesday morning at the Cook County Sheriffs Police Canine Training Center in Bremen Township, where vest donors for police dogs were recognized in a ceremony. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

“Lika,” a Belgian Malinois police dog, has been known to bite so hard, she’s broken teeth, and when she hears thunder, she sometimes attacks the windows because she thinks it’s gunfire.

Police dogs are high maintenance, and their human handlers should be paid to take care of them even when the dogs are off-duty, says Lika’s owner, Cook County sheriff’s police officer Tim Gorniak.

Gorniak is part of a lawsuit filed this week in Cook County seeking back pay from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

In the suit, the Illinois Department of Labor claims Cook County owes its canine police officers a total of about $530,000 in back pay for the time the officers spent caring for their assigned dogs when not on the job – between January 2007 and July 2011. In the filing, the labor department alleges the canine handlers had no choice but to care for the dogs at home and so should have been paid overtime.

Frank Bilecki, a sheriff’s department spokesman, said the canine handlers received more than adequate compensation. “Every day, these individuals are paid to leave an hour early to compensate them for taking care of the dog’s needs,” Bilecki said. “Every day, they are paid for their lunch. Throughout the day, the dog needs to eat, drink and be walked – that all occurs on paid county time as well.”

But Gorniak, who is now back on police patrol and his dog is retired, said a police dog’s needs far exceed those of an ordinary pet.

“The things that make them a good [police] dog, make them a horrible house dog,” Gorniak said.

“Everything from food . . . working with the dog, medication, cleaning up after it, playing with the dog,” Gorniak said. “These are high-energy dogs – you have to work them out.”

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