When Duluth police officer Aaron Haller lost his K-9 partner, Haas, to a shooting in January, he didn't immediately think about getting another dog.
Amid the outpouring of support for Haller, his family and the Duluth Police Department in the following weeks, it was the officer's wife, Holly, who first brought it up.
"Once we started talking about it, and I had her support and the family support and everything, I had no question that I wanted to do it again," Haller said. "It was good to have some time to process everything that happened and mourn. But after all that kind of worked its way through it was good to start looking forward."
Just five months after losing Haas, Haller will introduce his new dog, Luna, to the public at Thursday's Operation K-9 event. The public is invited to watch dogs from five local agencies put their skills to the test as part of the sixth annual showcase 4:30-7:30 p.m. at the University of Wisconsin-Superior football field.
Luna, a 16-month-old Dutch shepherd, is the first female dog for the Duluth Police Department. She officially joined the K-9 unit last week after completing an intensive 13-week training program alongside Haller in St. Paul.
"She's been a great dog," Haller said. "At home, she's very capable of turning the switch off. She's very good with the kids and wife — she's a lap dog basically. But then at work she's totally different."
The dog's name comes from the Luna Lovegood character in the "Harry Potter" series. It was a name the Hallers already had set aside.
"Luna was actually kind of dead set in stone to be the name of our next kid if we had a daughter," he said. "As the process was kind of rolling along and it was looking more and more like Luna would be the dog we were going to end up with, my wife just basically said, 'Well, maybe Luna is the girl we were supposed to have.'"
Many police dogs are bred in eastern Europe, but Luna in unique in that she was American-born. She comes from Florida, having been teamed up with Haller by the same agency that paired him with Haas in 2017.
Haller has now gone through the K-9 academy twice in just over two years. It's critical for an officer and his dog to develop a relationship, Haller said, but they must start from scratch.
"With most of the dogs, when handlers get them, they call them 'green dogs.' They don't really have any obedience or know how to sit down — all that stuff that seems kind of automatic," he said.
Haller said police dogs have traditionally been males because trainers had found more success with them. While still fairly uncommon, some females — particularly Dutch shepherds and Belgian Malinois — are starting to be utilized in police work, he said.
Female dogs have been observed to tend to stick closer to their handlers, Haller said, but they also are also less likely to be distracted by scents from other animals, such as deer.
"I have noticed differences — and very good differences — but I just don't know how much of that necessarily would be female compared to male," he said. "You could have two male Belgian Malinois from the exact same litter and see big differences in them, too."
While serving as an introduction for Luna, Thursday's public event is also slated to include a special tribute to Haas.
The 3-year-old Belgian Malinois was killed and Haller was wounded when they were shot by an armed domestic-assault suspect during a standoff inside a Duluth residence on Jan 13. Haas was the first K-9 killed in the line of duty in the city's history.
The tragic incident served an example of how highly trained dogs make officers "significantly safer" in the most dangerous situations, Haller said.
"It's not really out of the realm of possibility, I'd say, that had Haas not been there to do what he did, I'd probably be dead," he said. "Maybe two, three, four other cops could be dead or seriously wounded as well. So yes, obviously, it was very tragic, and I still think of it that way, but I also try to focus on the positives and how much worse it could have been."
Operation K-9 also features a tribute to recently retired K-9s in the area and offers attendees a chance to meet the dogs, tour police vehicles and equipment and take part in other family-friendly activities.
The event is free and open to the public, but donations are encouraged. Proceeds go to the Amsoil Northland Law Enforcement K-9 Foundation, which supports the units at the Duluth, Hermantown and Superior police departments, as well as the St. Louis County and Douglas County sheriff's offices.
"K-9s are an amazing resource for law enforcement," said Lt. Jason Akerson of the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office. "They help us do our jobs better while keeping our officers and others in the community safe. But they're expensive to purchase and train, and as our agencies are constantly trying to trim costs, we appreciate all the help we can get from the public to support our K-9 programs."
If you go
What: Operation K-9
When: 4:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: University of Wisconsin-Superior football field, Belknap Street and Catlin Avenue
How much: Free, but donations encouraged. Silent auction and souvenirs also available