A Black Diamond police officer and his family are well on their way raising money to cover a retired K9 dog’s medical costs.
The GoFundMe page for Sabre, a black Labrador Retriever, was created early October after he received two surgeries for his eyesight. However, there are additional medical costs in order for Sabre to retain his vision and be pain-free.
Sabre was Black Diamond’s first, and currently only, K9 drug dog.
“I bugged our chief for months and months and months about getting a K9 program,” Officer Kris Chatterson, Sabre’s owner, said in a recent interview. “We were a small city, so there wasn’t that pushing need to have a K9 program in the city, because we could use dogs from other cities.”
Back then, Chatterson continued, if the city needed a K9 for a drug search, it was impossible to determine where the dog would come from — a neighboring city or hours away — or if a K9 was even available at all.
That’s eventually what persuaded former Chief Rick Luther to start the program, along with the fact adopting Sabre, who was then only 1 year old, and his training cost the BDPD no money.
“I convinced him that everything we needed to purchase for the dog, I could raise the money through the community,” Chatterson said. “I think he just did it to shut me up.”
Sabre became the department’s official K9 in 2006 after three months of training on McNeil Island, and Chatterson will never forget his first bust.
“It was Federal Way that called me over, and said, ‘We’ve got a search warrant for this car, and we’re pretty sure there’s drugs in here. We’ve torn it apart and we can’t find anything,” Chatterson recalled. “I get there and I have [Sabre] go into the car, and it took him a couple seconds, and he alerted to the headrest. There was cocaine sewn into the headrest — you had to cut it open to get that.
“Now, when he alerted to that, I’m freaking out. They want to cut into the headrest, and this is a brand-new Denali Cadillac. They always taught us to trust your dog, but now they’re going to start destroying something, and if there’s nothing there, it could come back to liability,” he continued. “I was starting to sweat up a little bit, but they opened it up, and there was the cocaine.”
In total, Chatterson and Sabre had more than 5,000 finds during the K9’s career.
One of Sabre’s more interesting cases was in Kent, when the Drug Enforcement Agency was simultaneously raiding five or six houses around South King County.
“I brought my dog into this house and I was astonished to see there was nothing in the house. No furniture — the house was completely empty, and I didn’t know why we were bringing my dog… there wasn’t even dirt,” Chatterson said. “So I let him run around free, and he went into the master bedroom, went into the closet — there was nothing in there — and he alerted to the wall. Now the detective in charge of the case is walking toward me with a sledgehammer.
“I’m thinking, ‘He’s going to break into the wall, there’s not going to be anything there, and I’m going to look stupid in front of all these predominant detectives’… they broke open the wall, and there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash stacked inside the wall,” he said, adding there must have been drug residue on the money for Sabre to sniff it out. “The money was also vacuum sealed, and that was inside the wall. And my dog still alerted to it.”
Sabre retired at the end of 2012, which Chatterson said was devastating, since Sabre didn’t understand why Chatterson continued to go to work without him; it took months for him to realize he was now allowed to play with his ball all day, rather than just as an reward for a successful find.
He was as healthy as could be until last February, when the Chatterson family not only realized Sabre was diabetic, but he was starting to form diabetic cataracts on his eyes. Five months later, he was completely blind.
“For the first time in his special life, his spirit had been broken and he lost the desire to do anything,” Chatterson wrote on the GoFundMe page. “My heart ached for him.”
But thanks to the Valley Retired Police Dog Association, a nonprofit that serves retired K9 dogs in South King County, Sabre’s cataract surgery was financially covered, and the Chattersons were overjoyed.
The relief was brief — two weeks after the surgery, Sabre developed glaucoma in both his eyes, and had to have emergency surgery.
“They opened up the clinic on a Saturday when no one else was there, and they did the surgery,” Chatterson said. “They put valves — stints, they call it — in both of his eyes. Sounds gross, but it works.”
Again, the VRPDA stepped up to cover the cost, but the organization is more designed to handle one-time medical expenses, and Sabre now had a list of ongoing checkups and costs, from the $250 per eye exam to make sure the stints are working properly, and the $1,100 in medication he has to take per month.
Additionally, those stints last between two months to a year, resulting in another $4,500 for replacing them.
All together, the average monthly medical cost to keep Sabre’s sight is $1,350, Chatterson said. That’s enough money that, were it for nearly anything else, the family would question if they could afford it.
But not when it came to Sabre, who turns 14 this year.
“He gave seven years of his life to the community,” Chatterson said. “Now it’s time for me to give back to him… even if he has only a couple of years left, at least he’ll be able to see for those last couple of years. I owe him all of that.”
This is what the GoFundMe account, titled, “Retired Black Diamond Police Medical Assistance,” is for. The goal at the moment is to raise $15,000, which the Chattersons believe would be enough to cover a year of medical costs.
Luckily, the GoFundMe has already raised more than $10,000 since it was created Oct. 6. Additional funds raised after meeting the goal will continue to go toward Sabre’s continued medical care, but when he eventually passes, any remaining money will be donated to VRPDA.
“Those guys need some definite props,” Chatterson said.
For more information about the VRPDA, head to https://www.facebook.com/VRPDA/.