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New search dog fills void for Roseburg firefighter

Still feeling grief from the deaths of their two search dogs less than two years ago, Roseburg Fire Department Battalion Chief Chris Sutton and his wife, Hannah Sutton, knew some time had to pass before they would consider a new dog.

Enter Poppy, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever — the newest member of the Roseburg Fire Department. The dog recently became a certified Human Remains Canine Search Specialist and RFD public relations dog.

Poppy will have multiple duties with the department — not only searching for human remains, but also doing a lot of public relation work in the community. Poppy has a K9 Good Citizen certificate so she will be used her for public relations with kids and outreach groups.

“Of the three dogs I’ve worked with, she’s definitely got the best balance of the friendliness to engage with the public and the drive to work, she’s very well balanced,” Chris Sutton said. “She’s very friendly and very energetic and very high drive which is what we look for in these dogs.”

Because Chris and Hannah Sutton are trained handlers for Poppy, the dog is also the latest member of the Sutton household.

Poppy comes after the Suttons lost Hank, a yellow Labrador who was trained to search for live victims, to cancer in October 2017. Chris Sutton had been paired with Hank for six years and brought him to Roseburg when he was hired by the Roseburg Fire Department in early 2017. Just two months before Hank died, the Suttons lost Cascade, a golden retriever and an avalanche dog, while they were still living in Colorado.

“Obviously we’ll never replace those boys but Poppy definitely fills that gap of that partnership,” he said. “Hank was with me pretty much 24/7, always at the firehouse and I traveled everywhere with him, and Poppy has definitely filled that gap for us.”

After the two dogs died, it took a while before the Suttons were ready to get another dog.

“It was pretty tough, they died within months of each other,” Chris Sutton said. “Filling the void and having the partnership of the dog again has been great, but Hank and Cascade ... those two taught us so much about training and working and the partnership with canines, and really set us up for success in working with Poppy.”

For Hannah Sutton, losing Cascade was emotionally difficult because she’d handled him since he was a puppy and bonded and worked with him for several years.

“That was very hard for me when the dog died, and Chris had a special bond with both of the dogs,” Hannah Sutton said. “Poppy has been a great family member, and has definitely filled the void for the boys,”

Roseburg Fire Chief Gary Garrisi approached Chris Sutton about a K9 program, shortly after the deaths of Hank and Cascade. So Mountain View K9 Training in Highland, California, was contacted last July and Poppy ended up in Roseburg. Chris Sutton says Poppy’s talents will be a good addition for the fire department.

“She is a trained human remains detection dog,” Chris Sutton said. “Disaster scenarios, floods, natural or man-made disasters, she could locate people, that’s the biggest benefit and her main mission.”

Garrisi can approve requests outside the county to use Poppy, so the dog could serve agencies anywhere in the region.

“I think it’s a great resource, not only for our community, but also for the region as a whole when it comes to search and rescue and recovery, so I think it’s a positive thing,” Garrisi said.

At 2 years old, Poppy still has a lot of energy and loves to play, but when it’s time to work she is focused.

To be certified, Poppy had to go through a lot of training, testing on her obedience, agility — she’s even learned how to climb a ladder — she is checked on her social ability with humans and other dogs, and her dedication to a scent.

The dog is not trained for live scent yet, but Chris Sutton is hopeful that eventually, he will be able to cross-certify her for finding live victims. Meanwhile, Hannah Sutton is working on getting certified to handle Poppy on searches too.

“She’s been trained in fire scene and disaster work and now with the county team, we’re kind of expanding her into wilderness stuff, so we’re trying to make her well generalized, so whatever the county needs we want to be a resource,” Chris Sutton said.

The Suttons are excited to have Poppy in their family. And there will soon be another member to their family. They are expecting their first child.

McConnel posts goodbye video, hopes push for government transparency will carry on

Myrtle Creek resident Alyssa McConnel earned a name for herself as a government watchdog during the three-and-a-half years she lived in Douglas County.

In that short time, she ran a downtown merchants’ association, accused that organization of whistle-blower retaliation when it fired her, and ran for office twice — unsuccessfully.

Undaunted, McConnel became a regular fixture in the audience seats at local government meetings, and she started the Facebook site Douglas County Citizens’ Voices to Local Government. She used that platform to post information about meeting agendas and call for greater transparency.

McConnel posted an emotional video on Facebook and YouTube last Sunday, expressing her love for the community and lamenting that it’s hard to say goodbye.

She told The News-Review on Thursday she believes the community will only move forward if its citizens know what’s going on, and said she hoped others would carry on gathering information and pushing for transparency once she’s gone.

“No one person is going to change this place. It’s going to have to be a multitude, and the first step is paying attention,” she said.

McConnel made an unsuccessful run for Douglas County commissioner in 2018 and another unsuccessful run for the Douglas County Transportation Board in May. She garnered just 5.7% of the vote in the commissioner race, but came in second to incumbent transportation board member Mark Hendershott with 47% of the vote in May.

“Everybody should run for office at some point in their life,” McConnel said. “It’s very educational and eye opening, whether you win or not.”

Prior to running for office, she served as director of the merchants’ group Downtown Roseburg Association. The association’s board of directors fired McConnel from that job in April 2018, alleging a failure to maintain productive relationships with downtown businesses and derogatory comments about the city’s use of funds.

McConnel alleged her firing was retaliation for whistle-blowing. She had questioned the financial relationship between the city of Roseburg and the association. She filed a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries that was dismissed, and followed up in April by filing a lawsuit against the Downtown Roseburg Association. McConnel had no comment Thursday about her dispute with the Downtown Roseburg Association. Currently, she works part time as Valley Tire Center’s marketing manager.

The primary reason she’s leaving is she’s been unable to find a full-time job that pays well.

“I’ve noticed there are plenty of minimum wage jobs, but minimum wage jobs do not cover someone who has any sort of higher education that they have to pay back,” she said.

McConnel is from Iowa and attended Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. She said she was drawn to the West Coast because she literally wanted a change of scenery. She visited Idaho several times with relatives and felt she’d like to move to the West. Her first job here was as an advertising saleswoman for The News-Review, where she worked for a little over a year, until January 2017.

She said she’ll leave this summer, but wouldn’t say where she’s headed. Her long-term destination will depend on the results of her job search. Although she feels her work here wasn’t done, she said financial survival is forcing her to move.

McConnel’s parting comments hearkened back to her county commissioner campaign slogan.

“I wish everybody the best. Get stuff done,” she said.

Douglas County restaurants don't care about Oregon straw ban

Some local restaurant owners said a statewide ban on automatically providing customers with straws would be silly, but it wouldn’t suck.

Carrying a bundle of straws in an apron pocket or grabbing a handful is a habit that waiters at Aroy Thai and other Oregon restaurants may soon drop.

The Oregon House passed Senate Bill 90 on Wednesday. It would ban restaurants and convenience stores from automatically including disposable plastic straws with drinks. The bill allows straws to be provided upon individual customer request.

The bill will go back to the Senate for approval on an amendment excluding hospitals and nursing homes before going before Gov. Kate Brown for approval.

Ryan Walker, owner of Aroy Thai restaurant, said the ban won’t really affect the business. It just adds a step for customers who want them.

“I’m initially okay with it, but no straws could be inconvenient for my customers,” Walker said, mentioning specifically lipstick-wearing ladies. “A lot of people don’t use them even when I hand them out.”

The bill also excludes drive-thru orders and convenience stores without room to keep the straws behind the counter.

Violators could be fined up to $25 per day, capped at $300 per year.

The law would be enforced by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Health Authority, which already regulate food establishments.

Tolly’s Manager Patti Taylor said the bill is a silly way to reduce single use plastics when they are so small.

“There are a lot of bigger things you’d think they’d be focused on,” Taylor said. “Anything but straws.”

The bill is one of three bills addressing plastic waste moving forward this session.

House Bill 2883 would prohibit restaurants, grocery stores, food carts and other food vendors from selling prepared food in polystyrene foam containers. It would take effect Jan. 1, 2021. The bill has been approved by the House and by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

House Bill 2509 would ban single-use checkout bags, with some exceptions, and impose a 5-cent fee on reusable bags. It’s been approved by the House and by the Senate Rules Committee, but has not yet been voted on by the full Senate.

Old Soul Pizza owner Ray Bartram said it won’t really affect the pizza parlor much.

“We do very little straws and if we have to adjust, we’re fine,” Bartram said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do. We’ll make it work.”

MSullivan / MICHAEL SULLIVAN/The News-Review  

Senate Bill 90 could potentially ban straws in restaurants such as this one placed in a green Thai iced tea at Aroy Thai restaurant in Roseburg.