The largest donation in Fish and Game’s Conservation Canines Unit’s history arose from tragedy, but will be put to good use, Col. Kevin Jordan said.
The estate of Clarence W. Sleeper Jr. willed $144,000 to the department, with the bulk going to the Non-game and Endangered Wildlife Program and $60,000 to the Canines Unit.
According to then Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald, Sleeper, 85, fatally shot his wife, Gertrude, 84, and then himself on Dec. 15, 2019 in the couple’s residence on Hilltop Manor in Littleton. A neighbor told the Union Leader that Gertrude Sleeper had recently been working through a medical challenge.
The Sleepers’ combined obituary said the two were dog lovers, travelers, and history buffs.
They left behind family and friends, the obituary said, as well as a plea for memorial contributions to support David’s House in Lebanon and/or the Wildlife Heritage Foundation of NH, Canines Fund.
“From what I was told, these were outdoors people who loved New Hampshire’s resources and spent lots of time outdoors,” Jordan said.
“They were dog lovers and known for their love of dogs and I thought it was really interesting that they thought to make donations to those causes upon their leaving this earth.”
“Our canine program is run completely off donations,” Jordan said, with the Wildlife Heritage Foundation of NH coordinating the collection of the money.
The foundation pays the annual expenses of the four Fish and Game canine teams, which Jordan called “the best-trained teams for tracking and recovery in the state.”
“We’re very proud of them,” Jordan said.
“These dogs find people. We use them in search and rescue. They have literally saved lives,” he said.
The dogs are also “great evidence finders,” Jordan said.
The timing of the Sleepers’ donation is serendipitous, said Jordan, because the unit “recently ordered two new canine cruisers, which are expensive trucks” in their own right that must also be fitted with equipment, including a climate-controlled traveling crate for the dogs.
Last Thursday during a training session at the Owl Brook facility in Holderness, Conservation Officer James Benvenuti, who oversees the Fish and Game Canines Unit, said the donation is its largest by far and “takes a huge weight off people’s shoulders.”
Fellow handler Lt. Robert Mancini estimated that it costs $8,000 to $10,000 annually to operate the canine unit.