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"Just a pet:" Why a Milwaukee non-profit won't chip in to help retired K9 with medical bills

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee PD K9, Emo retired from the department roughly a year and a half ago. Soon after, his medical bills started mounting.

He needed a toe amputation after a work-related injury, a cyst on his tail needed attention, a tear on his skin required surgery, and because of other conditions, infections followed after some of those procedures. Those are just a few of the vet trips that turned into a $5,000 plus medical bill in the time since Emo retired.

When his handler, Christina Roesken, was first partnered with Emo, there was no such thing as the MPD K9 Foundation.

"I did go into this knowing he was my responsibility. I had no issues. I would never want to give him up," said Roesken.

In 2014, the MPD K9 Foundation was formed as a non-profit. In the 501(c)3's application to the State of Wisconsin, the group simply states their purpose is to "assist MPD with purchase and training of K9 officers."

The foundation isn't directly affiliated with MPD, but they work closely with the department's K9 Unit to pay for things that may not be covered in the city's budget.

When Emo's bills began to add up, Roesken made a request for help to the board.

"I made my first request with the original president of the board, and they had a lot going on... I understood. They were busy," said Roesken.

The vote was unanimous, and Roesken said they wouldn't help, and she was told he's 'just a pet.'

The MPD K9 Foundation says the handler is well-aware and signs forms that the dog is their responsibility after retirement.

"I didn't want an open spigot," said Roesken. "I didn't want them to pay for everything. I just wanted some help and I was told no."

When Emo's bills continued to climb, she sent another request a year later. The board didn't vote, but they did tell Roesken they were standing by their original decision, and that that are sticking with the "foundation's mission" by buying new K9s.

A former board member tells CBS58 the current board should have taken another vote. This board former member believes they should revisit the request because some of Emo's bills are duty-related. Emo retired in 2016, and during his duty, he responded to search warrants, drug sniffs and is most notably the officer that apprehended Najee Harmon, a man now convicted for shooting and injuring a Wauwatosa Police Detective.

Last week Emo suddenly became sick again. After a trip to the emergency vet, he's home and recovering, but Roesken knew she couldn't turn to the MPD K9 Foundation for help.

"This last sickness I had enough. It broke me because I thought I was going to lose him, and I decided to come out and let it be known that the foundation wasn't helping. I wasn't asking for 5000 dollars. I was asking for help," said Roesken.

Roeskin posted on Facebook. She says many officers and donors she has come into contact with don't know that their donations won't go towards retired K9s.

"Both Emo and I worked hard to help the foundation get money. Before he retired and even after he retired I helped them raise money, Emo helped them raise money. To be discarded -- 'you're no longer a part of us and he's just your pet now.' It was disappointing," said Roesken.

Despite what Roeskin was told, during a MPD K9 Foundation fundraiser in 2017, three Milwaukee Police detectives say they were told money will be used for dogs in retirement.

The MPD K9 Foundation's board president spoke with CBS 58.

"I have been called out as posting a cold-hearted, or cruel response. I did not intend on this. I was merely stating the facts as clearly as I could. I tried to assure all commenters that this decision was not made lightly," said Robert Zenoni. " We talked for the entire meeting about it before voting and we also vowed to revisit the issue of retired K9’s in the future. Our current mission is to support the MPD and it’s K9 unit. We would love to have an endless supply of funding that would allow us to care for all retired working dog. That isn’t the case."

The foundation also posted on Facebook after Roeskin's post gained traction.

Roesken says she is still disappointed on Emo's behalf, and she wants people to be aware of where the money is going.

"The money that goes to them -- it goes to buy dogs, to buy equipment, and things like that, but obviously once a dog is retired they no longer matter to the foundation," said Roesken. "I understand people wanting to give money to the foundation to support the unit, but I think they should also know a dog like Emo, who risked his life for 9 years ... the foundation has no time for."

A friend created a GoFundMe page for Emo because he had protected her as an officer. The page says, "Emo has risked his life on more than one occasion. It's time to give back to Emo for all of his hard work."

To visit Emo's GoFundMe, Click here.

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