It was hard to tell who was more excited at Sherman School last Friday afternoon -- a German shepherd named Lola or the students sitting around the gym. And the more Lola barked, the more the kids laughed.

Finally, humans and the canine quieted down enough to allow Westport Officer Ryan Paulsson explain Lola's role in on the police force. The visit by Paulsson, Lola, Officer Michael Heinmiller and bloodhound Ellie was a gesture of thanks to fifth-graders at the school who have taken up the cause of raising money for the Fairfield Police Department's new K-9 initiative.

Fairfield officers are in the process of raising money to cover the cost of buying and training a dog, certifying an officer, and retrofitting a patrol car to carry a dog. Funds are also needed to cover the dog's food, and the additional $4,380 a year a K-9 officer would receive under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The drive in Sherman School classrooms concludes Friday.

So far, GE has donated $10,000; People's United Bank has given $6,000 and also is collecting money at all of its Fairfield branches.

Sgt. Suzanne Lussier, a Fairfield police spokesman, estimated about half the required money has been raised. She said the plan is to fund the entire program with private donations for the working life of the dog, which would be at least five years.

Paulsson, who takes Ellie home with him each day, told students it's like getting to bring your pet with you to work everyday. Ellie is used by Westport strictly for locating missing persons, while Lola is used to sniff out drugs.

Officer Jay Valle recalled when Fairfield used Ellie to find a special-needs youth who had run away in the Greenfield Hill area. "We'd been looking for about a half and hour," Valle said. "Ellie showed up and found him in about five minutes."

In the past, the fifth graders at Sherman School have raised money for the police helicopter, and will be asking schoolmates for donations through Friday. Canisters asking them to "Be Kind Donate to K9" will be placed in all the classrooms.

"My class has about $100 already," said fifth-grader Clara Everett.

Anders Ohn, who along with Everett and Jamie Ginetti announced the fundraiser, said he thinks it will be helpful for the police to have a dog.

Ginnetti agreed. "The dog can smell things out," she said.