By Dawn Krebs
FORT PIERCE - After seven years of dedicating his life to fighting crime in Fort Pierce, one employee of the Fort Pierce Police Department is hanging up his badge and vest to enjoy a life of retirement.
And dog biscuits.
That's because Bingo, an 11-year-old Belgian Malinois, one of two police K-9s for the department, is retiring.
"Bingo was trained for both patrol and narcotics," said his partner, Fort Pierce Police Officer Robert Stagner. "He was dual-purpose."
Bingo was born in the Netherlands in 2001, and was sold to Metro Dade K9, where Officer Stagner selected him, after going through a rigorous training himself.
"We have to be on the force for a while before you can put in for K9," said Officer Stagner. "After we select the dog, we have to go through a joint training class. The training is constant."
A K9 dog costs between $5,000 and $10,000, not including the additional equipment and training needed afterward. Purchasing Bingo was made possible by a donation from Tim Ioannides of Treasure Coast Dermatology.
Since becoming a part of the Fort Pierce department, Bingo has been responsible for more than 200 arrests.
"One time, he captured a suspect in a double-homicide," said Officer Stagner. "Bingo found him in a thick wooded area. My wife had just made detective, and that was her case."
Since then, Bingo has played a role in the arrests of bank robbery suspects, purse snatchers, drug dealers and domestic violence offenders. He has even worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency, United States Customs, the Florida Highway Patrol, the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Transportation.
"Bingo has had a stellar career," said Dennis McWilliams, public information officer for the Fort Pierce Police Department. "He's caught a lot of bad guys."
But his biggest legacy in the city that has left both children and adults smiling throughout the years is Bingo's ability to give hugs.
During presentations, Officer Stagner would tell the audience that he needed a hug, and then Bingo would jump into his arms and appear to smile.
"Now that he's older, arthritis has been bothering him," Officer Stagner said. "I started to limit what I would do with him. But the hug is his thing, and he loves it."
Now, Bingo's days are filled with playing with Officer Stagner's other two dogs, both miniature dachshunds.
"It's been fantastic for him."
The police department is currently raising money to purchase another K9. Donations are being accepted at the department's charitable contribution fund earmarked for canines.
For more information, call Officer Stagner at (772) 467-6910 or email him at email@example.com.