Janesville73.5°

Edgerton police dog will stay on job

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
May 15, 2010
— The city’s public safety committee will allow the Edgerton Police Department to keep a newly trained police dog in service after it bit an office worker in the arm and face earlier this week.

The decision comes even as the city’s insurer recommended the city should replace Ash, a 2-year-old German shepherd that on Monday bit and significantly injured the arm and face of Stephanie Balis, an administrative assistant at the police department.


The full city council could decide as soon as Monday whether the city will keep the dog.


Meanwhile, the dog’s handler, Edgerton Police Chief Tom Klubertanz, is under orders by the city’s public safety committee to keep the dog out of the police department building.


In a report to the committee at a special meeting Friday, Klubertanz admitted he made the mistake of leaving a fledgling police dog untied and without a muzzle inside his office at the department, moments before it bit Balis.


“We had an unfortunate accident. I feel bad that it happened. I have since day one,” Klubertanz told the committee Friday.


Klubertanz said he had brought the dog into the police department Monday morning, leashed and muzzled, to show it to workers. He took the dog to his office and removed its muzzle so it could chew a treat Balis had given it earlier. He said he untied the dog for a moment while searching for some files.


That’s when the bites occurred.


According to a department report, Balis approached Klubertanz’s office from a darkened hallway carrying some paperwork. The dog was startled, and went into the hallway, Klubertanz said.


Balis declined an interview, but her husband, Marc Balis, said Balis was in the hall near the chief’s office when she heard a growl and saw the dog lunge at her.


As Balis threw her hand up to block her face from bites, the dog clamped its jaws onto her arm, her husband said. The dog then bit Balis’s nose and cheek before Klubertanz was able to pull it away, her husband claims.


Klubertanz claims the dog, which is trained to protect its handler, became defensive and must not have heard his commands to stop.


The bites required 16 stitches on Balis’s arm and face, and one of her nostrils was “tore open” by the bites, her husband said.


Balis is recovering at home. Her husband said she has been haunted by recollections of the bites, and has scheduled a psychiatric evaluation.


“She’s sitting here bawling right now. It’s really, really frustrating for her,” he said in a phone interview.


Monday was not the first time Edgerton’s police dog bit someone. On April 13, during training at Steinig Tal kennel, Campbellsport, the dog bit a city of Wisconsin Dells K-9 officer who was training another dog, a Wisconsin Dells Police Department report said.


The Wisconsin Dells officer was handing a leash to another officer when Edgerton’s police dog lunged and bit the officer’s left wrist and right hand, causing puncture wounds and a laceration, the report said.


City administrator Ramona Flanigan said Wisconsin Dells has forwarded the injury claim to the city of Edgerton. She said a claim also has been submitted for Balis’s injuries.


The city’s insurer, Flanigan said, recommends the city trade the dog in for another, but she said the insurer indicated that it would not drop the coverage if the city decides to keep the dog.


Flanigan said the dog, which is certified for narcotics and tracking work, is under warranty at Steinig Tal kennel, where it was purchased and trained. She said Steinig Tal indicated they would consider replacing the dog.


“I want a little more information from the kennel,” public safety committee chair Andrea Eggerstaffer said at the meeting Friday. “What’s the percentage that (the dog) will continue doing this?”


The city had budgeted $12,000 for purchase and training of the dog, and for handler training. Total training costs were not available, but Flanigan said the city had $7,500 in grants and donations in place to pay for project.


Janet Schuster of Edgerton, one of several members of the public who spoke at the meeting, argued the dog’s biting shows it isn’t ready for work in public.


“How can they certify him if he isn’t ready for socialization? It doesn’t make sense at all,” she said.


Whether the city ultimately keeps the dog in service, officials said they want to continue training the dog to socialize it and get it used to its surroundings.


“We need to allow the training to go on either way,” said public safety commissioner Mark Wellnitz.



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