Holland native making things safer in Elizabethton

By Bob Robinson
Star Staff

   A five-year-old Dutch immigrant is working hard to make Elizabethton safer these days.
   The immigrant, Sonja, was born in Holland. Sonja is a pure bred Belgian Malinois who arrived in Elizabethton about a year ago where she met her constant companion and sidekick, Officer Richard Haney of the Elizabethton Police Department (EPD).
   Sonja and Officer Haney are members of the elite K-9 squad, one of two K-9 teams in the EPD. The Carter County Sheriff's Department also has two K-9 teams.
   Sonja went to a school for canines in Texas to be trained for police work before arriving in Elizabethton. After being assigned to Officer Haney, the two spent six weeks in training in Elizabethton.
   Sonja performs a variety of tasks, including responding to burglary alarms. "Sonja can also track a lost person or someone running from the law. She is also used on searches for illegal drugs," Officer Haney said.
   "Police dogs are used anytime an officer's life is in jeopardy," he added.
   Officer Haney hopes, someday soon, Sonja will be issued a bulletproof vest, like police officers wear, to protect her from the criminal element. A good vest costs about $1,000, he said.
   In some cities, school children have raised funds to buy vests for police dogs in their community. Officer Haney said it would be a nice gesture if something like that happened in Elizabethton.
   Police dogs are usually retired after 8 to 10 years on the police force. The aging process affects the dog's ability to perform on the job, satisfactorily.
   Sonja loves to work for the EPD. She is fed a special high performance diet, called Proplan. Her veterinarian, Dr. Richard Jablonski of Roan Mountain, donates his services to Sonja and to the EPD.
   The EPD K-9 program began in 1991 under Police Chief Daniel "Tuck" Alsup.
   Officer Haney, a graduate of Elizabethton High School, joined EPD four years ago. He is the son of Shannon Gearity and the late Tony Haney of Hampton.