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Law enforcement, firefighters, gather to mourn K9 Luna

By Brandi Makuski

Across Portage Co., multiple emergency departments commonly gather in public to celebrate a promotion, a retirement, or a fundraiser.

But there were few smiling faces on Thursday, as Stevens Point police were by joined dozens of emergency workers from nearby agencies to pay their last respects to K9 Officer Luna.

Luna’s service photo. (Courtesy SPPD)

Luna was suffering from multiple organ failure following a short but aggressive onset of symptoms after suspected exposure to a poisonous wild mushroom while off-duty. She was rushed to the Animal Resource Center in Appleton for emergency treatment Sept. 2, where doctors gave her a less than 30 percent chance of survival.

At about 2 a.m. on Sept. 4, Stevens Point police made the difficult decision to put her down.

“It’s a tragic loss,” Police Chief Martin Skibba said following the flag ceremony on Thursday. “Not just for this department, but for the community; she was the community’s dog. She was a community member.”

But Luna, a Belgian Malinois who was just over two years old, was also a tool for the department, Skibba said. She helped make police approachable, paving the way for positive community interaction.

The dog worked “a great many” drug and weapon recoveries, even helping departments outside the city, but Skibba didn’t immediately know how many.

Lead Officer JD Ballew, with his wife Kristin, accepts a flag folded in Luna’s honor on Sept. 5. The dog lived with the family for about 18 months. The flag will later be placed on display at the department. (Metro Wire photo)

As they often are, Thursday’s flag ceremony was arranged at the last minute—but attracted law enforcement from Portage Co. and UW-Stevens Point, the city’s police auxiliary unit, and records bureau, Stevens Point firefighters, along with family and some members of the public, among the mourners.

Police department chaplains have also had more of a presence at SPPD this week, Skibba said, to help officers deal with their grief.

“This is our first K9 death at the department,” Skibba said. “She wasn’t just a cop; there’s something about these animals that strike a chord in us.”

Assistant Police Chief Tom Zenner said the flag ceremony is a longtime police tradition that immediately follows the death of an officer. A fresh American flag is raised for 24 hours in front of the department, then saluted, before being lowered, folded, and presented to the family of the fallen, he said.

At Thursday’s ceremony, officers wore shrouded badges in recognition of Luna’s passing, and the flag was presented to her handler, Lead Officer JD Ballew, who attended with his wife, Kristin.

Skibba said Ballew has been placed on special assignment and should return to work next week.

“We’re going through a lot of tissues right now, a lot of quiet moments,” Skibba said.

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