Several years ago, in the very early days of being a dog handler for the Greenfield Police Department, Scott Zienkiewicz would set up his patrol car on a busy Greenfield street, pull out his radar gun and wait to catch someone speeding.
Occasionally, the stillness of waiting would be broken by a friendly paw poking Zienkiewicz’s arm or shoulder through the sliding window that separates the front and back seats, often times startling Zienkiewicz and reminding him that he was not alone.
For the last 7 ½ years, Zienkiewicz has had Badger by his side. But this week, Badger is retiring, his last full shift being Tuesday evening. And Zienkiewicz will soon be manning his squad car without his trusted companion.
“When (the retirement) got moved up because of his health issues, it made me second guess if I made the right move in my career or if I should have gotten another dog because I enjoy it so much,” said Zienkiewicz, who was promoted to sergeant in January. “Just having him there, to see him work, finding things officers would have missed, I would have missed, anyone would have missed, he finds it.
“It’s amazing. I’m going to miss working with the him.”
A community favorite
Originally from Holland, Badger, who turns 10 in November, came to the Greenfield Police Department on May 15, 2005. Over the years, Badger has gone on more than 1,000 deployments resulting in 56 arrests. He once found 1 kilo of powder cocaine coated in axle grease hidden in the third row seat foam in a large SUV, and tracked down a burglary suspect who fled from police about a half-mile away lying face down in a flower bed.
His best find, according to Zienkiewicz, came when he tracked down a loaded handgun used in a shooting in Milwaukee on the playground of an elementary school in the neighboring city.
“That’s bigger than apprehending a suspect that ran from police because that’s not going to hurt anyone else if he gets away,” Zienkiewicz said. “This would have hurt someone else, had a child picked it up and fired a round off.”
In addition, Badger, who will be recognized at Tuesday's Common Council meeting, performed more than 100 demonstrations at events like National Night Out and the city’s Fourth of July celebration. Problems with Badger's back have forced the early retirement, Zienkiewicz said
“On top of those 100 demonstrations, I don’t know how many times I stopped on the side of the road seeing a group of kids playing basketball or something, or they’ll flag me down. They love him,” Zienkiewicz said. “It draws people to us. … It’s an excellent tool. That’s what the dogs have become these days. It used to be the dogs were unapproachable. Nowadays you have to a have a dog that’s approachable.
“That’s the nice thing about Badger. He’ll be at a demonstration and have kids hugging him and two hours later he’s chasing down a bad guy ready to bite him.”
Zienkiewicz, a board member for the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handlers Association, will still be in charge of the department’s canine training and will be a canine supervisor.
The department, which has a long history of K-9 officers—Chief Brad Wentlandt and Captain Jay Johnson are former handlers—will be adding a new one to their department sometime in January thanks to donations from MECA Vest-a-K9 Foundation and Skylark Vending, which have agreed to split the cost of the $14,000 dog purchase.
In the meantime, Badger might still do some drug searching until the new dog is on board, if his health permits, but mostly, he’ll spend time becoming more and more domesticated at the Zienkiewicz household, where he’ll spend the rest of his days with the police partner he once patrolled the streets of Greenfield with.
“I’ve learned throughout the years, (dogs) will do anything,” Zienkiewicz said. “They’re not selfish. They’ll go after a guy with a gun if he’s coming after me and won’t give it a second thought. It’s a great partner to have.
“Everyone should have a dog.”