COLUMBIA — Police Chief Ken Burton and City Manager Mike Matthes will meet Wednesday morning to talk about Fano, a police dog, and the possibility of selling him to his former handler, Rob Sanders.
Sanders was fired from the Columbia Police Department in September after an internal affairs investigation into his use of force against a man in a holding cell. Sanders had worked with Fano for more than a year.
Now, Sanders wants to buy the dog, and his wife, Amy Sanders, went to Monday night's City Council meeting to plead with council members for the sale.
She told the council that Burton first told her husband he could buy the dog for $10,800 but that someone else "in the chain of command" denied Burton made the statement.
She expressed frustration about the situation and her husband's termination.
"By selling Fano to us, we would be able to more quickly heal and move on from an event that I can only hope you will all educate yourself on thoroughly," she said, alluding to her husband's firing.
A friend of the family, Janna Tarbox, also spoke to the council and outlined a proposition for buying Fano, check in hand. She was part of a group that came together on a Facebook page for canine Fano and raised the $10,800. But she said that instead of putting all the money toward the dog, the total would be divided: $2,000 for the dog, $4,400 for the Central Missouri Humane Society and $4,400 for Columbia Second Chance.
"This offer stands tonight," she said.
After discussion, Mayor Bob McDavid said: "We are not in a position to release the dog tonight."
Instead, the council decided to report back at its next meeting.
But on Tuesday, Burton said the statement about him saying yes to the sale was "completely untrue." He said that when Sanders asked about buying the dog when he was fired, Burton told him he "would look into it."
"Nobody ever said yes — at least, I didn't," Burton said.
Allowing the Sanders to buy the animal could be a liability to the city, he said in an interview Tuesday. If the dog were to hurt someone, that person could turn around and blame the city for selling a police dog to a civilian, Burton said. He also said buying and training a new dog would be expensive.
The city's risk management department had made an estimate of how much it would cost to replace the dog, and that's where the $10,800 figure came from.
At the council meeting, Councilman Jason Thornhill questioned whether the situation would be the same if the former officer were retired, not fired. But Burton said Tuesday that it's not about Sanders' situation, it's about the age and training of the dog. At 2 1/2 years old, Fano is in the prime of his career, Burton said.
Replacing the dog would cost at least $4,000 — maybe $6,000, Burton said. Add to that the cost of training the dog with a new handler, and the total cost comes to about $13,000, he said. Right now, it looks like the police department will find a new handler for Fano from within. Until the right match for Fano is found, the dog is in Cape Girardeau with the trainer the department uses.
Sanders' termination isn't the source of Burton's reluctance to sell the dog, he said. Nor are his personal feelings about Sanders' termination. "I don't have a preference one way or the other — I'm just trying to look out for the interest of the city," he said.