Our Stories

A Canine for Gwinnett’s K-9

When Gwinnett County Police Major John Strickland received a call telling him a citizen wanted to donate money to purchase a dog for the K-9 unit, he wasn’t quite sure what to do. It was the first time something like this had happened in his unit.

It wasn’t the first time for donor Kathy Gestar, though. Almost 18 years ago, Kathy participated in the Citizens Police Academy in Gwinnett and witnessed a K-9 demonstration.

“After talking to some of the officers involved, I realized there were things they needed that weren’t always covered by the overall budget,” Kathy said. “I wondered how I could help so I mentioned it to my lawyer. He knew Joe Estefan, then executive director of the Community Foundation, and arranged it so we could set up a K-9 fund through the Community Foundation.”

A long-time dog lover, Kathy named her new donor-advised fund the Cody Fund, in honor of her Sheltie Cody. Cody had been by her side since her first husband died.

“For years, until I met my now-husband Ed, it was just me and Cody. He meant everything to me,” she said.

Since opening her fund through the Community Foundation in 1999, Kathy has purchased five dogs for Gwinnett County.

Belgian Malinois Elsa, her latest purchase, is the first female K-9 in the history of the Gwinnett Police Force. Her handler, Officer Larsen, is also new to Gwinnett County.

“Because the work is so rigorous, our dogs are typically in the field for eight years before needing retirement,” said Major John Strickland. “One of our current dogs, Jax, needs to retire so Elsa will replace him in the field. ”

According to Gwinnett County Police Chief Butch Ayers, the Gwinnett County Police Department’s K-9 Unit provides 24-hour, on-call service to track suspects and lost and/or missing persons, locate hidden evidence of a crime, search for suspects who are attempting to avoid arrest, protect the public and police officers from death or injury, prevent the escape of felons or violent offenders, and detect the presence of a narcotic substance, as well as explosive materials.

“We are extremely grateful to Kathy for her assistance in helping us provide K-9 services for the protection and safety of our citizens and police officers,” Chief Ayers said. “We enjoyed meeting with Kathy and the Community Foundation’s Executive Director Randy Redner several months ago. During the meeting, the K-9 Unit provided a detailed orientation and demonstration of the abilities of police K-9s. I saw the passion and interest in Kathy’s eyes, and her desire to support police K-9 units in Gwinnett County.”
For Kathy, it makes her heart feel good to know she can do something to help protect the community and assist officers.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this on my own so I’m glad the Community Foundation was there to help me meet my goal,” she said. “No one had done anything like this before [for the police department], so there wasn’t anything in place. The Community Foundation allowed me to do what I wanted to do, which was help police K-9’s as well as their handlers, and helped me give my money in the best way possible.”