Local scout on a mission to donate K9 to LHPD

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By Rachel Madison

It’s safe to say Jillian Hamrick, a 14-year-old incoming sophomore at Liberty Hill High School, has been busy this summer.

When she’s not at Pacesetter K9 in Liberty Hill learning skills to handle drug and police dogs, she’s working on the creation of a program that will help teach students across the community about the importance of K9s.

All this work isn’t for nothing—Hamrick is working toward earning her Gold Award through the Girl Scouts of America, which is the highest award that can be earned as a Girl Scout.

Hamrick, who is a senior member of Troop 40101, decided that for her Gold Award, she would train and donate a K9 to the Liberty Hill Police Department. The police department hasn’t had a K9 on the team for at least eight years, said Brad Langham, owner of Pacesetter K9, and he knows it’s something the department needs.

“They’ve wanted a dog for years and never had the budget for it,” he said. “K9s keep drugs off our streets and out of our community, and Liberty Hill needs one. If you think about it, if you want to bypass Austin, Highway 29 is a great corridor to get back to the typical drug corridors like Interstate 35 and Highway 281.”

Langham added that while Hamrick will be donating the K9 to the LHPD, the police department will have to work with her on a timeline to make sure they have all the equipment and training required, as well as a handler to work directly with the dog.

“There are different grants and programs that can help with that, and some of what the dogs do helps to sustain the K9 program,” Langham said. “Dogs can take drug-related money off the streets and the police department can use a portion of that to fund the program.”

“Police relations with communities haven’t been so great recently, and I wanted to point out that not all police are what they’re being made out to be,” Hamrick said. “Both of my parents work in law enforcement. Everyone everywhere was putting them in the wrong stereotype. I just thought it would be a nice way to contribute to the community and my school.”

Right now, Hamrick is learning how to train and handle a drug detector dog and is working on getting certified. She attends classes at Pacesetter alongside law enforcement officers from across the country and will spend a total of 160 hours learning how to be a basic handler. Langham has donated all the training to Hamrick for her cause and has already given her plenty of opportunity to get her feet wet.

She has already learned how to lead a dog to search a room and a car for narcotics and has learned several Czech commands. She’ll soon learn how to search an open field, and eventually how to lead a dog to search for bombs. She’s also experienced what it’s like to be attacked by a dog.

“Getting bit by a dog is terrifying. I’m going to have to do it again because it’s part of my certification, but the initial thought of letting a dog bite you triggers your fight or flight instinct,” Hamrick said. “If that dog got loose, I would sprint out the door. It’s scary because it’s a 90-pound dog, it has sharp teeth and stares into your soul.”

After she’s certified, Hamrick will go with Langham to Poland in October to pick out the right dog for LHPD. Langham will supervise the trip and show Hamrick what to look for when choosing a dog.

“We go to Europe because they breed dogs for working there, and they are of purer lineage and working capabilities,” Langham said. “I can go to one place and look at 60 to 75 dogs and have a better selection.”

In addition to training a K9, Hamrick is also creating a school program to help teach students about the importance of police dogs.

“A requirement of the Gold Award is that it has to have sustainability,” said Gina Giachetti, Hamrick’s troop leader. “She can’t just train a dog and give it to the police department, so she is going to work with the Liberty Hill Independent School District on creating lesson plans on how assemblies can run, which any K9 handler can use.”

Hamrick is taking inspiration from other similar programs used in schools across the country, but will focus her program specifically on the dangers of current drugs and educate students on drug use and abuse. Langham will help her with the K9 aspect of the program, by helping her develop a plan for setting up displays for the K9 to sniff out drugs.

Giachetti added that Hamrick’s contribution will continue to give back to the community for several years, even after she’s grown up, because most K9s serve for about a decade as long as they remain healthy.

So far, Hamrick has raised about $1,300 for her trip to Poland and the cost of the dog. The cost for the K9’s training will be approximately $5,000, Langham said.

Most donations are coming through social media as the word gets out about Hamrick’s project. She has even caught the attention of the Belton Police Department, which donated to her cause; and veterinarian Todd Murphy of Sam Bass Veterinary Wellness in Round Rock, which donated full care for the K9 for the duration of its life.

Another way Hamrick hopes to earn money for the K9 is through homemade paw balm she and Giachetti made to sell at local farmers markets, like Indian Mound Ranch. One hundred percent of proceeds from the sale of the paw balm will go toward the K9 as well, Hamrick said.

Giachetti said when she and Hamrick began researching the Gold Award, most of the projects centered around building a bench and dedicating it to someone or changing local street signs, but Hamrick wanted to do something different.

“Jillian didn’t want to do the norm,” Giachetti said. “She wanted to do something out of the box, and she really likes dogs and this is a real need in the community.”

Giachetti added that a Gold Award looks good on a college resume, and because Hamrick has already earned her Bronze and Silver Awards, she was planning on earning her Gold Award as well. Hamrick has been a Girl Scout since childhood when she started as a Daisy.

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