The Tucson Police Officers Association is on a mission to name a Rita Ranch dog park for Ivan, the 3-year-old police dog shot in the line of duty while trying to protect officers from an armed man in mid-December.
After his shift each night, Ivan was taken to the one-acre dog park inside the Purple Heart Park on East Rita Road by his handler, Tucson Police Department Officer Chris Fenoglio.
"(He) would allow him to run the energy off for the night before taking him home," said the TPOA secretary, Officer Paul Sheldon, who his spearheading the tribute at the request of Fenoglio.
Sheldon spent five hours Wednesday afternoon at the park gathering signatures from people who live within a mile and a half of the park for a petition to submit to Tucson Parks and Recreation.
He ended the day with 188 signatures, more than the 150 that are required.
The petition will be presented to Parks and Rec and will be up for approval at its next board meeting, and will then have to be approved by the City Council, Sheldon said.
He hopes the approval process can be completed by February.
Ivan was shot on Dec. 13 by a carjacking suspect in a midtown neighborhood. Ivan was released by Fenoglio after the man pulled out a gun, and he bit the suspect on the left arm.
Several community members have reached out to Fenoglio after Ivan's death, said Sheldon, who also works as a dog handler.
He noticed, while checking the mail a few days ago, that the K-9 unit's mailbag was unusually heavy.
"When I opened up the mailbag there were dozens of letters written to Officer Fenoglio and his family," Sheldon said, adding that Fenoglio is "overwhelmed" by the response.
Sheldon described the bond between a dog and its handler as extremely close.
From the very day a police dog is chosen, countless hours are spent playing, feeding, grooming and training, Sheldon said.
"You literally spend more time with that dog than you do with your spouse," he said.
Ivan was trained to find bad guys and sniff out drugs. While working for TPD, the Belgian malinois helped in one of the largest meth busts the department has ever seen, Sheldon said.
TPD has lost two other dogs in the line of duty. Woo was hit by a patrol car after chasing a stray dog during a burglary investigation in 1974. In 2006, Miko died in a jump off an overpass while pursuing a carjacking suspect.
The dog park at Reid Park, Miko's Corner Playground, was named in his honor.
"When I opened up the mailbag there were dozens of letters written to Officer Fenoglio and his family."
Paul Sheldon, TPOA secretary
Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4224.