There’s a saying in show business often misattributed to the classic Hollywood actor W. C. Fields: “Never work with children or animals.” Those universally beloved groups, the theory goes, often grab the spotlight from more accomplished but less adorable thespians.
Ron Kauffman, founder of Stand T.A.L.L., doesn’t mind too much that dogs have stolen his show. If anything, these particular pooches deserve more praise. Late last year, Kauffman’s group raised more than $10,000 to purchase bulletproof vests and training for K-9 units with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department and Hendersonville Police Department.
But Kauffman emphasizes that Stand T.A.L.L. (short for Thank a Local Lawman) is about much more than its latest fundraiser. “I served during the Vietnam War, and we live in a town where if someone recognizes you with your cap on, they’ll thank you for your service,” he says. “The same thing has to apply to the cops — we run away from the fire, and they run into it.”
The two-year-old project, an offshoot of the nonprofit Sentinel Patriot Club, is the only one of its kind in Western North Carolina, Kauffman points out. He says it’s also “one of very few nonprofits in the country” with the double goal of “directly supporting law enforcement” while also improving community relations, namely “integrating [police] departments with at risk youth.”
Kauffman began reaching out to local law enforcement, asking how he could help meet their unfunded needs as a way of expressing gratitude. From practice ammunition for the Laurel Park Police Department to tourniquets for the Blue Ridge Community College Police, Stand T.A.L.L. has since worked to increase the capacity and safety of area officers.
Detective Robert Pace with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department, one of the K-9 handlers who benefitted from Stand T.A.L.L., shares his own experience with the project’s impact. “During a recent narcotics search, the vest saved K-9 Maik from a puncture wound that would’ve been caused by an exposed nail inside a crawl space,” he says. “The love and support that our community has for law enforcement means a great deal.”
Sheriff Charles McDonald adds his own appreciation for a Stand T.A.L.L. grant that sent several of his deputies to a retreat on managing work-related stress and marriage issues. “That training helps sustain and revitalize our folks in the job that they do,” he points out. “I have nothing but praise for what Stand T.A.L.L. has done and how they’ve done it.”
Moving forward, Kauffman hopes to shift Stand T.A.L.L.’s focus toward promoting better relationships between police and those they protect, particularly minority communities. Through partnerships with groups such as the Boys & Girls Club, he plans to bring cops in contact with children and address negative cultural narratives around policing.
“We want to start teaching these kids that the uniform doesn’t make someone a bad guy,” Kauffman explains. “The police are like you and me; they just chose to be of service in a different way.”
Kauffman even suggests that the showstealing dogs might play a role in this new effort. “You can bring one of the bloodhounds to any group of kids, and they just melt,” he says. “Then you tell them, ‘That’s a four-legged cop!’ — you just moved them one inch.”
Stand T.A.L.L., 880 S. Park Place, Hendersonville. For more information, call 800-308-6817, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, see the group’s Facebook page, or check out thankacop.org.