Tony Fanella always has loved dogs. The Lake County sheriff’s deputy and his sister, Traci Sikorski, grew up with German shepherds in their family. So when the opportunity arose for Fanella to apply for a police K9 partner, he jumped at the chance.
Fanella was paired with Sinbad, a smart, loyal German shepherd. They worked together for three years.
“These dogs become your best friend,” Fanella said. “You spend more time with them than your family.”
Then, in June 2004, Fanella was training with Sinbad when the K9 unexpectedly suffered heat stroke and lost his life.
“It was really hard on the whole family,” Sikorski said. “They work with these dogs, they’re home with them. They have such a bond.”
Fanella, who now works with a police K9 named Thor, began to consider the idea of establishing a police dog memorial in Illinois. While Illinois — and the — has a memorial for war dogs, there is no memorial in place for police dogs.
“My grandmother lives in Florida, and she was always sending me articles about K9 memorials there,” Fanella said.
He began to discuss the idea with Sikorski. They also discussed their vision with Paula Rothacker, owner of TOPS Kennel in Grayslake, where many of the area police dogs initially are trained.
“We decided to see if we could start this,” Fanella said.
The Northern Illinois Police K9 Memorial was incorporated in January 2011. They since have collected the names of 74 police dogs to be honored at the future memorial site, and they always are accepting more.
One police dog to be honored is Crow, a black German shepherd who was partnered with Officer Patrick Johnson. Johnson, who has been with the Palatine Police Department for 30 years, spearheaded the campaign to get Palatine to participate in a police K9 program.
“I saw a need and thought this would be a great program for us,” he said.
Palatine eventually did approve the program, and Johnson was partnered with Crow. They worked together for eight years until Johnson was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. Crow was retired at that point, but when Johnson returned home, he soon found out that Crow had cancer.
“It’s hard to fathom this bond,” Johnson said. “They’re more than just a tool to you. They watch your back, they would give their life for you.”
After holding several fundraising events, like a bags tournament in April the organization dubbed “Doggie Bags,” the Northern Illinois Police K9 Memorial has raised more than $45,000. It also acquired a spot at Highland Memorial Park in Grayslake.
However, the group needs about $10,000 more to proceed with its plans. The organization has a statue of an officer and his K9 partner on order but needs to pay for it in full. The Northern Illinois Police K9 Memorial must meet its goal by July 1 to hold a dedication ceremony on Sept. 26, Sinbad’s birthday.
The organization also plans to have 180 tiles surrounding the statue; each will be engraved with the dog’s name and information.
“After we use all the tiles, we plan to build a wall around the statue,” Sikorski said. “We’re planning to have this go on for a long time.”
The Northern Illinois Police K9 Memorial is holding a golf outing June 6 and a motorcycle ride June 23 to raise money for the memorial. For more information, visit www.policek9memorial.org, or visit the organization's website to donate to the cause.