By Ann Marie Shambaugh
Jelka is a dog who loves to chase tennis balls, which has turned out to be a blessing and a curse.
The Zionsville Police Dept. recruited the 2-year-old Belgian Malinois in part because of her “ball drive,” which is key to training a K9 officer, but it also led her to dash into the street in front of a pickup truck May 15 as she played fetch with her handler, Officer Josh Stutesman, at their Westfield home.
The truck struck Jelka, leaving her with a fractured leg, a hole in her diaphragm and a punctured lung that wasn’t found until it was almost too late. At first veterinarians warned Stutesman that she may not survive, but less than two weeks later she’s well on her way to making a near-complete recovery.
“When I take her outside she automatically still wants to go chase rabbits, so she’s definitely getting back to herself,” Stutesman said. “She doesn’t even recognize that she has been through three different surgeries.”
Stutesman is recovering well from the ordeal, too. He is thankful that he didn’t actually see Jelka get hit by the truck, although sometimes in his mind he still sees her running back to him on three legs, as she did right after the accident.
“She’s got the best spirit of a dog that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I don’t want that to go away.”
Funds and forgiveness
The ZPD K9 program is and always has been completely funded through donations since it began in 2013. It became depleted soon after the accident as vet bills began rolling in. Stutesman said the cost to treat Jelka could reach $15,000 or higher.
So far, the community has stepped up in a big way. Steve Russo, a longtime supporter of the ZPD K9, program launched a GoFundMe page to support Jelka, which reached its $6,000 fundraising goal in three days. He also started a Facebook page to track her progress and has scheduled fundraiser at Buffalo Wild Wings from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. June 14. The restaurant will donate 15 percent of sales when customers mention Jelka. Other fundraisers are in the works.
“We love our dogs and our police department here in Zionsville. The outpouring of support both in donations and prayers by so many great donors here in Zionsville is proof positive,” Russo said. “We posted the GoFundMe page and donations have been coming in nonstop.”
Stutesman is also grateful for the outpouring of support, and not just from those who give financially.
“If you have had Jelka in your prayers, that is all that matters,” he said. “That’s why she is healthy.”
Stutesman is a man of strong faith, and he said that made it a no-brainer for him forgive the pickup truck driver who hit Jelka.
“One reason we’re able to forgive is because this is what (God) would want, but (also), the guy didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.
Stutesman said he encountered the man driving through the neighborhood again soon after Jelka came home from the vet.
“We’ve become friends,” Stutesman said. “He’s actually met Jelka now, in a good way.”
Back to work
In the days after the accident, ZPD officials indicated there was a good chance that Jelka might not ever be able to go back to work. Now, her vets are saying that she should be able to return to full duty in three to five months.
“The only difference they said that she may have is if she has to go apprehend somebody she may not have (as) powerful of a first hit,” Stutesman said, calling her recovery “an absolute miracle.”
Jelka will take it easy as she recovers, and Stutesman knows there will be a bit of a learning curve when it’s time to start full training again. But one of his biggest questions about her recovery has already been answered: Would she still be eager to chase tennis balls?
“I brought in a tennis ball to see what she would do,” Stutesman said. “Her eyes got real big and her ears popped up.”
HOW TO HELP
- GoFundME page: https://www.facebook.com/HelpJelkaZPDK9/
- Facebook page: https://www.gofundme.com/friends-of-jelka
- Donations may also be dropped off at ZPD, 1075 Parkway Drive, Zionsville.
- Buffalo Wild Wings will host a fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. June 14, with 15 percent of proceeds going toward the ZPD K9 fund when guests mention Jelka.