A petition has been created urging officials in Essex County to reverse a decision to shut down the sheriff's K-9 unit by the end of this month.
The sheriff's office stressed that homes will be found for all the dogs when the unit is closed down.
"Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura has announced that on December 31, 2019 he will disband the Essex County K-9 Unit," the petition reads.
"The busiest county in New Jersey! Getting rid of Narcotic K-9 , Tracking K-9, Search and Rescue K-9, and Weapon/bomb detection K-9! Essex County is one of the ONLY COUNTIES IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY THAT DOES NOT HAVE ATTACK CANINES!."
"And yet, they still want to disband docile scent only canines! Please sign this petition to reverse this decision and continue to keep Essex County residents safe. Thank you!"
The petition, appearing on Change.org, also states that the dogs will be euthanized, an assertion flatly denied by a spokesman for Fontoura.
"We would never do that," spokesman Julian Coltre said.
The dogs' handlers will be given the chance to adopt them, and any dogs not adopted will be kept until suitable homes can be found, Coltre added. Essex County may also explore whether other agencies could employ the dogs.
The unit is being disbanded for a number of reasons, including over financial and logistical concerns, according to Fontoura.
"Throughout its tenure, our K-9 Unit has been a vital part of our law enforcement initiatives, assisting our narcotics and bomb units as well as our local, state and federal law enforcement partners," Fontoura said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, due to increased demands on our budget and in an effort to save our taxpayers money, it has become necessary to find a more cost-effective way to deliver these important services."
The county will now enter into a shared-services agreement to provide K9 officers in Essex "that will provide the same level of service," Fontoura also said.
The K-9/Bomb Disposal Unit was founded in 1987 as a part-time force, becoming full-time in 1994 due to increased demand. It now has 5 dogs* trained in tracking, narcotics, firearms and explosives, arson, and search and rescue. The K-9 and bomb disposal teams work together on all incoming calls, according to the sheriff's office.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of dogs
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