Ben Roethlisberger could not rescue the Steelers Sunday afternoon in Baltimore. But the Super Bowl-winning quarterback has come to the aid of the police department in his hometown of Findlay, Ohio.
Through his newly established foundation, Mr. Roethlisberger will fund the purchase of a new police dog and protective K9 vest for the Findlay Police Department to replace its former drug-sniffing canine, Flip, who was shot and killed Nov. 18.
The grant is the first issued through the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation at The Giving Back Fund, a national nonprofit organization that provides philanthropic management for athletes, celebrities and others.
"When I received the call that someone wanted to buy us a new dog, I knew it was Ben," Findlay Police Chief Bill Spraw said yesterday. "It was very, very nice of him."
Chief Spraw said the cost of a new dog, fully trained to detect drugs and track suspects, is $8,900. He said the vest probably costs about $500.
The money will be used to replace Flip, the only dog in the Findlay Police Department. Flip, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, was shot and killed while off-duty when he wandered into a neighbor's yard.
The dog lived with his handler, Officer Bryon Deeter. The Hancock County sheriff's office is investigating the shooting.
Flip was memorialized yesterday morning at Central Middle School in Findlay, where he was a frequent visitor.
Chief Spraw thanked Mr. Roethlisberger for his generosity and commended his parents, Ken and Brenda, who were among the crowd assembled for the memorial.
"Thank you for raising a great son," the chief said, as the audience rose to its feet and applauded.
The attachment the Deeter family and Findlay police had to Flip was evident during the nearly hourlong memorial service that included prayers for Flip by the police chaplain, tributes by fellow officers, a bugler playing taps and a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace."
Students from the city's three middle schools and St. Michael the Archangel School also talked about how they enjoyed having Flip visit their school and lighted four candles to represent his four years on the police force.
A tearful Brian Woods, a former Fremont, Ohio, police officer who trained Officer Deeter and Flip, said the bond between a police dog and his handler is a tight one based on trust and respect.
"For those of you who are thinking, 'What's the big deal? This was just a dog,' I wish I could plug you into any one of these K9 officers here today," Mr. Woods said.
Findlay Officer Kurt Necker said Flip had earned the nicknames "Flip the wonder dog" and "Flip the super dog" because he was so proficient in sniffing out drugs and criminals. During his first year on the job, he located 40 pounds of cocaine in a hidden compartment of a car stopped by state troopers on Interstate 75.
"The only thing Flip was missing was a little red cape to wear because it almost seemed like there wasn't anything he couldn't do," added Deputy Ron Digby, a K9 handler with the Hancock County sheriff's office. "It almost got to the point where Flip could type Bryon's reports for him."
"My Dad instilled in me a love and respect for animals." Mr. Roethlisberger said in a statement. "This is a good way to combine that passion with a desire to support the police and fire departments, which deserve all the appropriate resources needed to protect our cities and neighborhoods, and allow these brave men and women to arrive home safely."
Chief Spraw said shrinking budgets have forced many police departments to rely on public contributions or fund-raisers to finance the cost of police dogs. In addition to the cost of the trained canine, there is the additional expense of handling, feeding and caring for the dog.
Because of that, the chief said his department wasn't even sure it could afford to buy another dog to replace Flip. Then Mr. Roethlisberger interceded.
"Some of the officers work out with him and one of the guys coached baseball with him, so we have always had a good relationship with him," Chief Spraw said. "He has always remained close to the people in Findlay."
Findlay police have been using a dog on loan to replace Flip. His name is Spike.
Chief Spraw was asked if the new dog will already have a name.
"Probably," he said. "But Ben would be nice."
The Blade of Toledo (Ohio) contributed to this report. Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1466.