LOS ANGELES (AP) — It’s a place of honor for those who sniffed out crime and brought down crooks. On a bluff beneath tall oak trees and overlooking rolling green hills, police dogs from one California agency are laid to rest.
The cemetery for K-9s from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department, which serves an area about 200 miles south of Los Angeles, is a unique option. Among U.S. law enforcement agencies, it’s more common for dogs to be buried or their ashes scattered on the handler’s property, in a pet cemetery or at the center that trained them.
No matter where they end up, dogs killed on the job usually can expect a funeral similar to a slain officer’s, said Russ Hess, national executive director of the United States Police Canine Association.
That means a crowded service with eulogies, a color guard and the playing of taps.
But “there is no right or wrong way to bury a K-9,” said Hess, who retired as police chief of Jackson Township, Ohio, to become head of the 3,000-member association that certifies K-9 teams.
Hess said he doesn’t know of any other law enforcement agency with a police dog cemetery on their grounds. Some training academies have graveyards, while cities often honor fallen K-9s in other ways — by naming parks for them or putting up statues or plaques.
In the California department, K-9 funerals didn’t receive full law enforcement honors until the cemetery opened in March 2013.
“It was something that needed to happen,” Cmdr. Aaron Nix said. “The K-9s are deputies.”
He said the dogs “are members of our patrol force, and this was our way of rectifying that.”
Even dogs that die in retirement have a place on the hill. Senior Deputy and K-9 coordinator Allen Barger lobbied to have the space turned into a graveyard for all department K-9s after the dog he handled for nine years, Jake, died of cancer in 2010.
It was an easy sell. Confiscated drug money funded the memorial park, and jail inmates helped Barger build it. Now, the agency’s K-9s have a place waiting for them.
“Their gravesites will be there long after I am gone,” Barger said. “It’s nice the agency cares so much about the dogs and gave us this property to use.”
Barger saved Jake’s ashes, and the drug-detection dog with 900 credited arrests was the first buried there with full honors. The second was Nico, who died of epilepsy in October.
The dogs’ service often evokes a community outpouring.
When residents of West Deptford, New Jersey, learned a K-9 named Judge had Cushing’s disease — when the body produces too much of a hormone that weakens the immune system — they raised more than $12,000 in two days last year for his treatment. The German shepherd caught 152 suspects in a seven-year career, said Cpl. Michael Franks, Judge’s handler.
Once Judge could no longer get up, Franks took him to be euthanized. As he carried Judge into the veterinarian’s office last month, nearly 100 officers from across New Jersey lined up to give the dog one last thank you.
“I was really taken aback by all the support we received,” said Franks, who plans to have the dog cremated and keep the ashes on his desk at work. “Judge touched a lot of people, whether it was personal or professional. I am very proud of everything he did for the community.”
Barger said a dog is sometimes called a police tool, but no handler buys that.
An officer can deploy a baton, pepper spray, a gun or a K-9, “but a dog is the only one you can call back,” he said.
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