As a former K9 handler, I have depended on my K9 partners for many years and in many situations. I worked as a dog handler in counter-narcotics in Texas and as a security contractor overseas looking for drugs and explosives. I trust my dog with my life — and in many cases, that trust was put to the test.
The K9 partners I worked with lived with me. Here in the States, the dog was mine. I owned him, and he went everywhere I went. He lived in our home and was part of the family. Overseas, the dogs were assigned, but still every bit as close. The dogs assigned to me in Afghanistan and Iraq stayed with me in my room. We were an inseparable team. All of the handlers fed, bathed, looked after, cared for, and depended on their dogs. Losing a K9 partner was heart-wrenching. Sickness, death, or in the case of an assigned dog, turning him back over to the company when the contract was over, was all so very hard.
The dogs give until the end. They will literally work themselves to death.
While working the streets in Texas, I was in a serious accident on duty with my assigned K9 unit. I was parked on the side of the highway running radar when my vehicle was hit by another car traveling over 80 mph. The impact hit the driver’s door directly, and the force of the crash pushed my unit over 120 feet from the side of the highway, all the way to the service road. The driver’s side door was pushed in a little over 22 inches. To say I was trapped was an understatement. My car, a Ford Crown Victoria, was equipped with a special insert for my dog that I actually paid for and installed myself; the department I worked for did not have a budget for the K9 program. That insert acted as reinforcement, and kept the car from crushing us both. The investigators all agreed that without the K9 insert in the car, my K9 partner and I would not have survived.
As it was, I was injured, and so was my dog, but it could have been so much worse. After the accident, my K9 partner undoubtedly saved me by waking me up in the car with his licks after I had been knocked unconscious. The K9 insert I chose had an escape door which my K9 partner came through to get to me in the front seat. Once I regained consciousness, I was able to call in my location and call for help. It took quite a while to get us both out of that car, but we both survived due to my K9-equipped unit.
I tell this story to help explain the bond between a K9 officer and his four-legged partner. It is as close as any partnership. There is a genuine love for the dog. I think it is more than that of the pet owner — not to take anything away from that, but the K9 officer and his dog share the same risks, dangers, and stress. This is something dog-lovers and their household pets do not have to deal with.
My K9 in Texas was not only an outstanding drug detection dog, but he was also a very sociable part of my local community. We went to the local school for show and tell, we were a fixture at the local shelter on pet adoption days, and he even had a column in the local newspaper called “Buddy’s Beat,” where advice and safety tips were given to the children from a dog’s point of view.
Our K9 partners put their lives on the line for us every day, and they do it without even knowing the dangers. In Afghanistan, my dog found a hidden explosive device that could have killed me and many others. He did his job without knowing the risk involved. And because of what the dog teams do to the enemy’s plans and efforts, they become targets. The dogs give until the end. They will literally work themselves to death. To the dog, finding explosives or narcotics, or even chasing a criminal, is a game. Unlike their human partner, they have no concept of the risks.
The efforts to incite the purposeful harming of my dog and all K9 officers’ partners are unconscionable. I do not know if it is a symptom of the distrust for police we hear about in the news, or someone’s idea of a sick joke, but it is dangerous to us all — especially our K9 partners.
On Jan. 6, 2017, the FBI released a bulletin regarding K9 safety, posted on its Facebook site.
What is clear is the effort to hurt our law enforcement officers has now evolved into the lowest denominator.
In a nutshell, the bulletin said someone (whom the FBI had identified) posted instructions to harm police K9s. The post was reported to the FBI by another law enforcement agency. Police departments were advised to alert their local veterinarian of the threat and to put in place an action plan should a K9 come in contact with the described situation. Below is the Facebook post that was reported to the FBI:
“Just know that no cops [sic] life matters and their K-9 counterparts either. Do support anyone that targets them. Here is a tip for everyone: Crush glass, gunpowder, and [omit last ingredient for those who are sick] into a real fine powder mix, then spread the mix it onto your [vehicle] floorboards and between the seats. Pray that you get pulled over and enjoy the show. The glass cuts the dog’s nasal passages, the gunpowder burns, and scars the dog’s nasal passages and [omitted] does its job.”
The bulletin goes on to say the FBI has not determined the intentions of the poster. Really? I think the intentions are extremely clear.
At this point, I could launch into several suggestions of what I would like to do to the originator of this disgusting post, but I will keep those to myself. If my dog could speak, I am very sure he would have a few ideas, too. What is clear to me is the effort to hurt our law enforcement officers has now evolved into the lowest denominator. Those that advocate the fight against police are now going after their K9 partners. It is sick, it is cowardly, and it is something that must not be tolerated, allowed to let slide, or even contemplated by those that oppose the police.
As of the year 2000, the Federal Law Enforcement Animal Protection Act states that anyone convicted of purposely assaulting, maiming, or killing federal law enforcement animals such as police dogs and horses could be fined at least $1,000 and spend up to 10 years in prison. For the thousands of K9s working for local and state agencies, the laws vary from state to state.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, in 2016 alone, 34 police K9s lost their lives on duty, not including my own K9 Buddy — who succumbed last year to injuries from the accident mentioned above.
He will be forever missed and never forgotten.
Jon Harris is a former Army NCO, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community. He is an OpsLens contributor and holds a B.S. in government and politics and an M.S. in Criminal Justice. This article originally appeared in OpsLens and is used by permission.