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K-9s are a girl’s best friend

Police help ill girl realize her dream of meeting dogs and handlers.

May 21, 2010|By Veronica Rocha

DOWNTOWN — It took a 12-year-old Pennsylvania girl who suffers from a neurological disorder several tries and a police department on the other side of the country to finally make her wish of connecting with a K-9 unit come true.

After getting nowhere with local police stations in her home state, Glendale police officers arranged an educational trip for Grace Bunduka and her mother, Rosanne Bunduka, to visit the area’s police dogs.

On Wednesday, Grace finally got to meet several police dogs and hold their leashes at a training facility in Ventura.

“It was awesome,” Grace said.

Her struggle with her illness and desire to meet a highly trained pooch struck a chord with Glendale Police K-9 handler Shawn Sholtis, who discovered her wish through an e-mail.


After reading a book about K-9 handlers, the sixth-grader expressed a desire be one herself. Her mother then hatched a plan to e-mail police agencies throughout the region requesting that they send in K-9 patches to place on a vest. The vest was going to be worn during a presentation with a K-9 officer at an advanced placement reading class. Sholtis received the e-mail November last year and sent her a care package, which included a patch, a letter, photographs and K-9 cards.

“It sounded like a great project and it’s always good to encourage people who are interested in being K-9 handlers,” he said.

He contacted Grace’s mother a month later and found out that they had only received the Glendale police K-9 patch.

Grace was planning to show her school classmates the vest and have a local police K-9 unit visit them, but school administrators said the police presence would be disruptive.

“Her spirit was crushed,” he said.

Sholtis decided to reach out to the California K-9 community to get police dog memorabilia for Grace. He received pins, coins and T-shirts from units through the Southland.

Glendale Police Officer Aaron Hamilton, who’s also a dog handler, and a West Covina police officer were able to get additional patches from K-9 agencies in the Midwest and East Coast for Grace’s vest. Before long, it was covered.

Sholtis corresponded with Grace and her family frequently, which helped her with therapy. Writing a letter is challenging for Grace, but critical for her treatment, her mother said.

Grace touched and focused on a picture of a German shepherd to write her thoughts on paper. She named the dog after Sholtis’ K-9 partner, Sam.

“She came back to us and said ‘This is it. They believe in me,’” her mother said. “All of her hard work has been obtained and has gotten through.”

Police Department officials then decided to organize a trip for Grace and her mother, so they could learn more about K-9s, said Glendale Sgt. Lola Abrahamian. JetBlue Airlines donated flight tickets and Holiday Inn offered a free room for two nights, she said.

Sholtis picked Grace and her mother up from the airport and took them to the K-9 training Wednesday.

“I got to sit with Sam on the ground and play with his toys,” Grace said.

Grace and her mother also attended the Glendale Police Awards Luncheon on Thursday, where they saw Sholtis receive a Distinguished Service Award for helping with her therapy.

His letters to Grace helped her writing and thought process.

“She’s is a very special girl and it’s a very special project,” Sholtis said.

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