K-9 Jesse was trained in multiple disciplines. Officers laugh because Jesse chewed up several sets of retirement papers before his retirement was finalized in early 2022. (Photo by G.E. Hinson)

An anonymous donor for years has been buying memorial bricks at Rosewood Park and dedicating them to police officers.

What sets these officers apart? They have four legs and a tail.

The donor has been honoring retired and fallen canines from the Columbia Police Department for more than a decade. Visitors to Rosewood Park can walk the Paw Path and read hundreds of memorial bricks.

At least a dozen K-9s have been honored with bricks that are laid into a so-far small pathway soon after their service ends.

“The K-9s are a huge part of our lives and to be remembered by something that’s everlasting like a brick or a monument, it means a lot to us,” said Cpl. Jim Fitzpatrick, a canine handler whose partner retired last year.

Police dogs such as Fitzpatrick’s new partner, K-9 Rawl, are highly trained in key disciplines – tracking, criminal apprehension and drug detection. The pair spends upward of 25 hours per month in training.

Most K-9 handlers spend more time with their K-9s than they do their families, Fitzpatrick said. K-9s eventually become more than a partner or a pet.

They become family.

Fitzpatrick has been a K-9s handler for a decade. His recently retired partner, K-9 Jesse, was honored last year with a brick from the anonymous donor.

K-9 Jesse’s brick was laid soon after his retirement. Fitzpatrick had no idea who or where it came from, only that it showed up almost immediately.

Jen Coody is the executive director of Animal Mission, the animal advocacy nonprofit that began the Paw Path in 2006. She assists the anonymous donor with donations.

“It’s incredibly heartwarming to see public servants honored by someone who cares,” Coody said.

The donor is adamant about remaining anonymous and honoring every Columbia police dog, Coody said. The anonymous donor has been dedicating bricks since before Coody began working for Animal Mission.

Proceeds from each $50 brick also benefit Animal Mission’s free spay and neuter program. The spay and neuter program has increased free and low-cost access to these procedures since beginning in 2006.

The program has reduced annual euthanasia by 87% at the City of Columbia Animal Shelter.

Annette Boette and other neighbors in Rosewood are “big fans” of the Paw Path and permanent memorials for the officers.

“It’s something wonderful to donate in honor of their service to us as citizens of Columbia,” she said. “It’s something more tangible than a simple donation.”

Boette described the situation as a “win, win, win” because the K-9s are honored, their handlers are honored and the proceeds are given to help animal shelters in the Midlands.

More than $600 has been raised by the donor so far and more than a dozen K-9s and their handlers have been honored.

The anonymous donor’s plans? They have no intention of stopping any time soon, Coody said.

Cpl. Jim Fitzpatrick and K-9 Jesse were partners for nearly a decade at the Columbia Police Department. Fitzpatrick’s new partner is K-9 Rawl. (Photo courtesy of the Columbia Police Department)

The Paw Path sits in a corner of Rosewood Park. The brick sculpture was carved by artist Mike Bise. (Photo courtesy of Animal Mission)

K-9 Rawl has been training with Fitzpatrick since early 2023. He will be certified in multiple disciplines. (Photo courtesy of the Columbia Police Department)

More than a dozen bricks have been laid in honor of retired and fallen Columbia police K-9s. All of the dogs served with the Columbia Police Department. (Photo by G.E. Hinson)