While recently recalling a special Christmas past, Kristi Schiller flashed her wide trademark smile and detailed why 2018 was starting out as a Happy New Year.
Schiller’s biography lists – among many honors and recognitions – that she is the founder and chair of a non-profit entitled K9s4COPs. And right under that comes K9s4KIDs.
As the names indicate, Schiller – let’s refer to her as “Kristi” – has a passion for dogs and a deep concern for the safety of law enforcement officers and kids anywhere throughout the nation.
Kristi’s Dogged Effort
Her crusade to supply law enforcement agencies with specially trained police K9s at no cost began in 2010. It was Christmastime and she was sad to hear that a Harris County deputy constable had lost his K9 in the line of duty.
Kristi’s husband, energy executive John D. Schiller, had asked her what she wanted for Christmas. “Nothing you can buy,” she replied, “Something that we can reflect on that never goes out of style.”
The bottom line: a new dog for the deputy.
The Freeport native and University of Houston broadcast journalism graduate immediately hit up her best sources to get this Christmas present. She hit the inevitable tall brick wall of bureaucracy, learning from such political stalwarts as County Judge Ed Emmett, Emmett’s predecessor Robert Eckels, Gov. Greg Abbott and his predecessor Rick Perry that the process could take months, even years.
The former radio and television entertainment reporter never said die. She quickly ascertained that there was no organization in the United States whose soul charitable duty was to supply free K9s to law enforcement entities whose budgets could not withstand the cost: $10,000 to $15,000 and sometimes up to $30,000 for the most highly trained K9s capable of sniffing drugs, finding lost children, helping arson investigators, and unearthing bodies, both dead and alive.
To make a long bureaucratic saga one paragraph: Kristi Schiller founded K9s4COPs and threw open the doors of the Schillers’ River Oaks home for an initial fundraiser in 2011. The organization has been going great guns ever since, thus far furnishing K9s to agencies from Houston to Minnesota and way out west to California, just to name a few. In fact, to name them all would take up a lot more space than we have here.
You should already know from reading the Brian Robison story in this issue that Robison, son of retired HPD Officer Jimmy Robison and a current defensive end with the Minnesota Vikings, chose K9s4COPs as the sole beneficiary of his own non-profit, the Reel ‘Em In Foundation.
Ardent animal lovers Brian and Kristi work closely all year to make sure the good guys get the K9s to help get the bad guys. To date, Kristi’s organization has gifted more than 200 K9s to law enforcement – seven of those are what she glowingly refers to as “Brian’s dogs.”
As head of her foundation, Kristi tries to make sure that each of the handlers involved provide detailed information about their police-related activities as well as the positive appearances at community events. At the drop of a cowboy hat or a Vikings helmet she can tell you the street value of drugs recently recovered with the help of one of her foundation’s K9s. In total, the amount has reached in the millions, and that’s just one of Kristi’s statistical gems.
She was so proud of the “take-down” by Waller County Deputy Andrew Blauser and Odin, his K9, that she made numerous media appearances, trying to be careful not to detract from the brave work of human officers while citing the importance of K9s.
As a former reporter, Kristi was – and remains – an ardent fact-finder. Seven years ago when her only focus was to buy a K9 to replace Harris County Precinct 4’s dog that died in the line of duty, she discovered that small police departments in many parts of Texas and the nation “had car washes, bake sales and anything else trying to raise money to buy a K9 for their officers.”
Many times, the effort took years due to high costs that include education and the certification of the handler. Wasn’t there help from non-profits?
“The biggest shocker was that there was not one charity in the United States that did this,” Kristi said, her voice still reflecting the disbelief.
“I told my husband that we have to start a charity. All the people said don’t do it; nobody else has done it. It’s probably not a good idea.”
The former entertainment reporter from the renown Stevens and Pruitt show on Houston radio went on to host her own morning show, “Cruze with Lucy” on KTBZ – The Buzz as well as numerous television appearances. She interviewed many famous people to report the buzz. What we’re trying to say here is that Kristi Schiller doesn’t take NO for an answer.
Eventually, she found the law enforcement officer who was her inspiration to go about replacing his deceased partner. He was Precinct 4 Deputy Constable Ted Dehlin. He lost his partner, Blek.
Dehlin is now a Harris County deputy sheriff. His partner, provided by Kristi and K9s4COPs, is XSARA, a single-purpose narcotics canine. Dehlin also sits on the K9s4COPs board and appeared with Kristi when she was honored as a “Harvey’s Hero” on the Steve Harvey Show.
The “Hero” honor is just one of many naming Kristi Schiller as a determined law enforcement advocate who sensed a need and – to use a Brian Robison-type analogy – keeps driving the ball toward the goal line and scoring the big points.
In 2013, she received the Peace Officers Award given by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department for her contributions that have helped law enforcement officers’ lives. She also earned the Humanitarian Service Award for her donation of three trained K9s to – yes! – the Houston Police Department.
Also in 2013, she received the Leon Goldsmith award given to an individual who has made a significant contribution to fighting crime in Houston.
There is hardly any place she won’t go in her drive to raise money and awareness for K9s. She told the B&G that one highlight of 2017 was meeting Police Chief Art Acevedo and getting the chief’s full support.
Kristi can’t stop thinking about helping officers. She has that extra special chutzpah it takes to ask people from all socio-economic levels for their contributions and support. “When they see me coming,” she said through a laugh, “they ask, ‘How much will it take to make you go away.’ ”
The woman suffers every time she hears of a crime victim. Each time it strengthens her commitment and prompts her to go a step further for the cause.
Protecting Our Kids
One special case in point happened Dec. 14, 2012 when a 20-year-old active shooter shot 20 children between six and seven years old and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The wanton killer also shot himself to death.
Kristi was particularly moved by the tragedy as she walked through the Oklahoma City Airport as she heard news of the violent event. She recalled, “My little girl was the same age as those children. If it could happen in an elite, well-educated white, privileged area like this — this was not Watts or Compton – it could happen anywhere.”
Her thinking cap worked overtime.
As she picked up her luggage she saw two law airport officers, each with K9s, briefly confront a foreign-born traveler whose native clothing made him look suspicious and other travelers nervous. This man was cordial and fully cooperated with the officers and their K9s.
Kristi recognized the incident for what it was and used it in her thought process.
“It (the confrontation) was to protect him coming in as a foreigner as much as it was to make everyone else confident and at ease,” she said. “They were offering these conduits for protection for non-U.S. citizens.
“Children in a learning environment need the same protection. Why not offer these same dogs in school?”
Could an appropriately-trained K9 have – to use another vernacular – smelled the shooter coming at Sandy Hook and made a difference?
Only God knows the answer to that question.
Meanwhile, Kristi formed K9s4KIDs, whose job is summarized thusly: “Trained K9s provide the ability to search, apprehend and sniff out narcotics, explosives and weapons on command.”
Schools or school districts must submit an application very similar to the one police departments fill out for K9s4COPs.
Kristi Schiller will tell you she won’t be satisfied until every school in our nation has such a K9 for this purpose. So far, she’s placed a dozen. You can bet her efforts won’t be slowing down any time soon for law enforcement and school kids everywhere.