by Paul Rignell
Sherburne County commissioners welcomed one of their youngest guests of the year Dec. 11 with a visit from Morgan Mertz.
A student at St. Andrew Catholic School in Elk River and daughter of Dave and Carla Mertz of Zimmerman, Morgan met the county board for recognition of a fundraising effort she led this year for the K-9 dogs of the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office.
For an extra-credit school assignment as a third-grade student last spring, Morgan was asked to write about ways in which she might show patriotism. Her family already had a history of packing boxes of treats and essentials for shipment to U.S. troops, both adult men and women who are serving the country, as well as the dogs that serve as companions for them and help guard the posts. Morgan and her parents had learned about those military working dogs by reading “The Dogs of War,” a book by Lisa Rogak.
Morgan went further with her gratitude in connection with last spring’s essay. She asked other family members, friends and Zimmerman neighbors to join in showing support for military working dogs stationed overseas, and also the dogs that serve in Sherburne County to catch criminals in the communities and keep order in the county courtrooms and jail. The Mertz family has many relatives who have seen either active military duty or worked in city or county law enforcement, including one who has worked with a dog in a K-9 corps outside of Sherburne County.
Morgan and her fellow contributors collected and shipped large amounts of dog food and toys for the four-legged troops, along with toothpaste and toothbrushes designed for dogs and provided by the Zimmerman Veterinary Clinic, where the family brings its 3-year-old German shepherd named Sasha.
Morgan’s donor drive for dogs raised money equaling $235 for the county which, based on the department’s choice, will fund the next year’s supply of K-9 trading cards that the officers distribute to children who greet them and their dogs at public events.
The new edition of Sherburne County K-9 cards will feature four cards each showing a photo of one of the county’s K-9 teams.
Field teams for the county include patrol deputy Ryan Sturme and his partner, a German shepherd named Ecco, and deputy Trevor Tuorila with his German shepherd partner, Axel.
At the county government center in Elk River, Phoenix, a black Lab trained for bomb detection, works in the courthouse and on suspect transport with Sgt. Adam Boler. Meeko, a third German shepherd in the county corps, can sniff out narcotics and works with correctional officer Eric Fahland in the jail.
Phoenix and Boler joined the county board last week to celebrate Morgan’s efforts. “I’m very proud that someone so young would take such initiative to do something like this for her community,” Boler told the Star News.
Sheriff Joel Brott said the department learned of Morgan’s work only in late November, and he decided that the board should know what the county was getting.
“I thought it was just outstanding,” he said in an interview. “For a 9-year-old, she’s got it well-understood and put together.”
Morgan has turned 10 since her visit with the board.
“We’re very grateful for all they (troops and officers) have done for us in this country. It’s something that we’ve always been around and involved in,” said Carla Mertz. “And the dogs, they’re working for us, too.”
Morgan said the process was a learning experience for her and her continuing time with Sasha, the German shepherd at home. “I know that I should always take care of my animals, and never leave them alone for too long,” said Morgan. “It’s a very important job.