Beneficial Pawtnership

K9s for Cops Program Helps Fund Polk County Sheriff’s Office K9s


On Sept. 28, 2006, Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Williams and his partner, K9 DiOGi, were killed in the line of duty while pursuing a driver who had fled from a traffic stop.

It was that dedication to law enforcement, the commitment to serve and the valor it took to do what they were trained to do that led to K9s for Cops.

K9s for Cops Polk County is a charitable partnership between The Estates at Carpenters — a continuing care community in North Lakeland — and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office K9 Unit, made up of 20 handler teams and 26 dogs.

K9s for Cops helps provide funds and tools to keep the dogs and their handlers well-trained, ready, and protected.

The community-supported Sheriff’s Office K9-support nonprofit was started in 2012 as a community relations outreach initiative by employees of The Estates at Carpenters, where about 400 people live independently with assistance or nursing care.

Michelle Robare, Estates’ community relations coordinator and K9 for Cops chairwoman, says the project began as a way to give needed financial assistance for the PCSO and their K9 unit.

“We found out the sheriff’s office is not given a line item in their budget to pay for dogs. The leadership of the unit had to go out into the community and secure the funds to purchase each dog,” says Robare. “We found out they really didn’t have a source of income for the purchase of the dogs, so we said, ‘Hey, let’s make this a regular thing and continue to do this.’ ”

A committee was formed at The Estates, led by community members and Estates residents Lou McCraney and Connie Perez, and the group began buying dogs. Most years, they bought one to three dogs. A total of 28 have been purchased since K9s for Cops was formed. In 2023, a record five dogs were purchased for a total of $62,000 and brought into the PCSO, which had added more K9 team members. The most recent, K9 Reno, was bought in December 2023.

All PCSO K9s are trained by K9 Unit deputies and dog handlers. Robare says funding for K9s for Cops comes throughout the year via donations, but fundraisers also help. The organization doesn’t receive any grants.

Each September, K9s for Cops and The Estates hold an “Evening With the Stars” to raise funds. This year, the event is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Bonnet Springs Park. The night includes a dinner and will feature retired Col. Mark Tillman, commander and pilot of Air Force One at the time of the 9/11 terror attacks, as speaker. The evening also features a K9 unit meet-and-greet. K9s for Cops also holds “Spirit Nights” at Chick-fil-A and other area restaurants, and a portion of the proceeds for each meal sold goes to K9s for Cops.

Last year, K9s for Cops also started marketing and selling branded merchandise such as T-shirts, hats, calendars, and K9 plushies to help raise funds.

Robare says dogs must meet certain criteria to qualify for purchase for the Sheriff’s Office. The office calls her if they need another dog, the K9 unit officers contact the K9 vendor. In 2012, the cost for a single dog was $7,500; that has increased to $10,000 or more. K9 Reno cost $12,000.

“They go try out several dogs, send me the invoice, and we pay for it out of the fund that we have,” she says.

PCSO Sheriff Grady Judd says his office owes a debt of gratitude to The Estates at Carpenters for the assistance K9s for Cops has provided to maintain the K9 Unit.

“We could not be more grateful to The Estates at Carpenters and Michelle Robare for creating and running the K9s for Cops Polk County program,” he says.

“To date, they have raised over $300,000 to purchase canines for our agency; those canines are what we call the ‘tip of the spear’ when our deputies are out patrolling the streets and putting bad guys in jail. They keep us safe, and in turn, our citizens safe.”

Robare says K9s for Cops partnered with Dark Horse Coffee Company in Plant City in December 2023 and came up with “Judd Java,” named after the sheriff, to help raise money

Last year, K9s for Cops started the Polk County Sheriff’s Office “K9 Unit of the Year” award and the “Matt and DiOGi Hall of Fame Award” for retired PCSO K9 handlers. She says the awards are simple ways to draw attention to the K9 Unit’s needs and personnel.

“We’re here to meet whatever needs the Sheriff’s Office has for their K9 unit that we can meet,” Robare says. “Right now, that’s our primary focus.”

For more information or to donate to K9s for Cops, go to or contact Robare at

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