By Steven Graves

CHICAGO (CBS) — A K-9 officer on the Gary police force suddenly dies after being poisoned.

CBS 2’s Steven Graves reports on how the devastating loss hits especially hard for the department’s K-9 unit.

K-9 Willie was his name. He was one of the newest recruits to the Gary Police Department’s K-9 unit. Gary police said it’s still unclear how this new police K-9 got sick, adding to the shock and grief over his sudden death.

“It’s just a tragedy how it happened,” said Staci Goveia.

Gone before the hard work began, after officers say he died from poisoning. “It’s more typical for a K-9 to pass on from cancer or old age. It’s not typically hear about a poison in a K-9,” Goveia said.

Staci Goveia is president  of the organization Protecting K-9 Heroes. She’s been in close contact with Willie’s partner, Officer Donald Briggs since the police dog died late last month.

“He was only with his canine for several short months. It’s an unbreakable bond between those two and it was a very heartfelt loss to Officer Briggs as well as the Gary Police Department,” said Goveia.

The Gary K-9 Association is now reaching out to the community for help. On top of Willie’s death, members were preparing to retire an older canine soon. It leaves a big hole in the five dog team that does vital narcotics and other crime fighting work.

“I know Gary has tried to raise money in the past for a K-9 and it’s been very very slow going,” said Goveia.  “And I don’t know if people don’t understand how important the canines are.”

The Gary K-9 Association said it’s dealing with a tight budget and depends heavily on community funds. But a burden they won’t have to worry about is memorializing K-9 Willie. That’s where Goveia stepped in with a donated plaque and painting.

It’s now in the hands of the officer dealing with his partner’s untimely death. The investigation is ongoing. It can take thousands of dollars to buy a canine and train it.

The Gary K-9 Unit takes pride in the quality of service and protection that we provide to our community and needs your help. A donation in any amount will benefit all that we serve. Please make check payable to: Gary K-9 Association, P.O. Box 64409, Gary, IN 46401