CARIBOU, Maine — With municipal budgets stretched to the limit across Maine, towns and cities are struggling to find the necessary funding to keep departments running.
The city of Caribou is not immune from those fiscal realities, but a group of citizens has vowed to secure what they feel is a piece of necessary equipment for the Caribou Police Department — a canine.
A newly formed volunteer group, People for Aroostook Canine Enforcement, or PACE, has been organized to procure funds for a police dog trained in tracking, evidence search and more.
Members are organizing a citizen’s initiative to educate people about the benefits of canine enforcement. Funds raised will go to the police department to purchase and maintain a canine unit. The all-volunteer group is not affiliated with the police department.
Jennifer Poitras, a Title I reading teacher at Limestone Community School, is leading the initiative, “I was looking for a project,” Poitras, who for the past two years has organized a fundraiser in Limestone to benefit the American Cancer Society, said earlier this week. “And I heard of this idea that was rippling around the community. I know that the department has researched it and tried for grant money, but no one has found success. I met with the chief earlier this month and once I got his support, I started getting things going.”
“We have started thinking of ways to raise the money to purchase a dog and also to make sure there is also the money to help maintain the animal over the coming years,” she continued.
Poitras estimated that it will take at least $3,500 to obtain the animal for the department. Poitras said she was told that police already have a vehicle the dog and its handler could patrol in.
“This was something that is a recognized need in the community,” she said. “The police department does not have a canine, so they don’t have that key team member on hand right away to detect the scent of someone who is lost or find the trail of someone who has broken into someone’s home and fled the scene. At the same time, the dog would be used in schools for anti-drug programs.”
In Aroostook County, the Maine State Police and the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department have canines that are called upon to help by different departments. The dogs and their handlers are not always on duty, however, and it can take them awhile to arrive at a crime scene in Caribou if they are at a different place in The County. A delay could give a criminal or someone who has disappeared a good lead over police.
“Even right now, when we really just have word of mouth, we have had a number of inquiries and recruited volunteers,” Poitras said. “We have brainstorming sessions planned to help us get as much money as we can fairly quickly.”
Signatures are being collected from citizens who support PACE, along with letters of support from local business owners and organizations.
Research for the best canine for the department is ongoing.
The group has nonprofit status, so all donations are tax deductible.
Boulevard Graphix of Limestone has designed and donated a logo to them and the group has set up its own email account and Facebook page.
Poitras said a number of fundraisers are in the works, and PACE members will be at the Caribou Cares About Kids parade and celebration in August.
“We really hope to get the funds raised quickly,” she said. “It is a big project, but I know we will get the support we need.”
The next PACE meeting is 7 p.m. Sunday, June 17, at Jade Palace in Caribou.