“RexRun” event raised more than $33,000 for Back the Blue K-9 Force

The nonprofit helps fund school therapy dogs and law enforcement K-9 units

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More than $33,000 was raised for the nonprofit Back the Blue K-9 Force at the “RexRun for PAWSitivity” event, which brought together community members, law enforcement and four-legged companions to raise funds and awareness about school therapy dogs and K-9 units, also referred to as police dog units. 

Hosted by Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office and Back the Blue K-9 Force on Aug. 6 at Dove Valley Regional Park, the event featured a range of activities and attractions, including a 5K run and walk, demonstrations by K-9 officers, food trucks, inflatable bounce houses, auctions and a variety of vendors. 

Dawn Johnson, who works for the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office in the attorney’s office, attended the event with her children and dog, walking the 5K together, which was her favorite part of the day. 

“It’s impressive to see so much support here,” Johnson said, adding her kids were excited to meet the dogs and horses in the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office Mounted Patrol Unit. “I think it's great.”

Back the Blue K-9 Force, created in 2016, helps fund school therapy dogs and law enforcement K-9 units throughout Colorado, including for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. 

“They’ve been working with Arapahoe County for years. And they not only provide all of our equipment to our canines — all of our canines — but they also provide our dogs,” said School Resource Officer Deputy John Gray. “The partnership is huge.” 

Gray is the handler of Rex, Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office first therapy dog, who was the inspiration for the “RexRun” event. 

Rex, who lives with Gray and works with him in Littleton Public Schools, helps offer a two-part safety approach, Gray said. The first is mental health support, connecting with kids in school who are less social or may be struggling. The second is being able to smell guns, since Rex is certified in gun detection. 

“I think the coolest thing is that there’s lots of therapy dogs in schools, but there’s not a lot that wear a badge,” Gray said, explaining that Rex helps him connect with students. 

Gray said he thinks there are kids who probably wouldn’t have talked to him if he didn’t have Rex by his side, and there are times where he’ll have 20-minute conversations with students without them realizing it as they pet Rex.  

“To bridge the gap from law enforcement and the community is huge, especially in a time where people are unsure, you know. People are a little bit leery,” Gray said. “The whole purpose of this event was to bring, kind of, awareness of what we were doing, and it’s obviously a charity event so that we can hopefully raise money to get more of these dogs.”  

In April, Rex’s younger brother, Zeke, became the agency’s second therapy dog. Diane Lewis, one of the founders of Back the Blue K-9 Force, said the nonprofit purchased Zeke for the agency.

“I would say Back the Blue has helped us add five dogs and a training field in the last year,” Gray said. “None of that would have been possible without them.”

The nonprofit has also helped the agency purchase equipment for the dogs, including bulletproof vests as well as medical kits in case a dog is injured and needs immediate treatment, Gray said. 

“They now have the proper medical equipment to be able to service any type of injury that they’ll have happen in the field. They can almost do a full operating room procedure right there in the field, so it’s life saving for these dogs,” said Brian Johnson, a volunteer for the nonprofit who said he used to be an Arapahoe County Sheriff’s deputy and is a U.S. Army veteran. 

“It’s about — not just about supplying the K-9, but also keeping the K-9 alive so they can actually have a long career,” Johnson said. 

Lewis said the nonprofit has purchased about 12 dogs for Colorado law enforcement agencies, and it aims to continue offering funding for K-9 units and raise awareness about the value of therapy dogs like Rex and Zeke. 

To help raise funds, a live auction was held at the event. Rhonda Rooney, a Lone Tree resident, was the top bidder of the auction, offering to pay $3,000 for a private foursome at Sanctuary Golf Course, located in Sedalia. She said she plans to give it to her parents. 

Rooney found out about the event while searching for 5K races to participate in, as she set a goal earlier this year to participate in five races. Her favorite part of the day was seeing where the money goes towards by meeting the animals and officers at the event. 

In total, $33,327 was raised at “RexRun,” said Ginger Delgado, a public information officer for Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, in an email Aug. 16.  

Back the Blue K-9 Force announced Aug. 18 on its Facebook account that “RexRun for PAWSitivity” will return next year on Aug. 5 at Centennial Center Park. 

Overall, Gray said he hopes people who attended the event gained an understanding of the importance of the nonprofit as well as Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office therapy dog program and what it aims to do. 

“January of 2021, this was just a concept,” Gray said about the school therapy dog program. “And as of January 2023, there’s a likelihood that we’ll have three dogs, which is awesome.”

Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, therapy dog, mental health, Dove Valley Regional Park, Back the Blue K-9 Force

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