Police Officer Fights to Keep Service Dog - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Police Officer Fights to Keep Service Dog

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BILLINGS, Mont. -

A police officer in Red Lodge is suing the city and is fighting to keep her K-9 companion.

A civil complaint has been filed by officer Maleri Cates who's been working for the city since May of 2014. She is suing the city of Red Lodge to fight to keep her K-9 officer called Drago.

In May of 2015, Cates was given a Belgian Malinois dog who would soon be called Drago and serve as a K-9 officer for the city of Red Lodge. Because Cates and Drago lived and worked together, they formed a strong bond within two years.

Documents state Drago suffers from a number of health issues and cates had been his caregiver. One of the health issues Drago has is severe separation anxiety. So severe that he has to be sedated whenever they're apart.

In August of this year, cates learned the K-9 program was going to be shut down. Later, Cates learned from city officials it was planned that Drago was going to be sold to the highest bidding law enforcement agency. Cates asked if she could purchase him and they told her she could if she was willing to match the highest bidder's price. They also said she could make the purchase in payments being deducted from her city paychecks over time.

City officials also informed cates that since the K-9 program was going to be terminated, her hourly pay would be cut from 25 dollars per hour to 22. After seeking counsel, Cates tried to negotiate with city officials but did not come to an agreement.

On Tuesday September 19th, Cates was ordered to turn Drago over to Grizzly Peak Animal Hospital by Wednesday morning.

Cates' attorney sent us a statement today saying: "Maleri and Drago have been inseparable for over two years, living and working together every day.  Maleri loves Drago, and as you can see from the attached photo, Drago loves Maleri.  Since the City of Red Lodge decided to end its K-9 program, Maleri's only goal has been to keep the dog who she has bonded with - a dog that has serious health issues that Maleri must address daily, and serious anxiety issues when separated from Maleri.  Maleri offered to pay Red Lodge fair market value for Drago, an offer Red Lodge initially accepted, but later backed out of.  Maleri never intended to sue her employer, and has been unwillingly forced into this position by overzealous City officials and the City's demand, made last night at 5 p.m., that she turn over Drago by 8 a.m. today.  Maleri looks forward to a resolution to this case, and a long and happy life with Drago."

KULR 8's Briana Monte spoke with the city attorney for Red Lodge Rebecca Narmore, who said the dog was returned to Cates this morning and Cates has since filed a restraining order to protect Drago.

"The whole thing has been a difficult situation for the city, for the department, for the officer, and we're just going to try and get it resolved," Narmore said. "Hopefully as amicably as possible."

Maleri cates is still employed by the city of Red Lodge and has Drago under her care for the time being.

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