It’s been a tough week filled with major life changes.
From losing Hondo on January 1st, to starting in a new section within the VPD on January 2nd, to our new puppy arriving on January 3rd, to a home reno starting later this month…well, I’ve never started a year with such upheaval before.
I’ll fill you in on the pup and the new job during future posts. As for the home reno – it’s going to be plain crazy around here.
Now about Hondo.
It’s been hard. Tougher than I expected. From taking his collar and leash out of my pocket upon my return home, to writing the last post, to cleaning out his home kennel, food dish and water bucket…I don’t think you’re ever supposed to be 100% prepared for those tasks.
But there are some things that make this difficult time more bearable.
First, the outpouring of support from all of you, both in and out of the VPD, has been tremendous. Our family has read each expression of sympathy and comfort, and your sincere words are like a balm. For that, we thank you.
Second, the support from police dog handlers has been heartfelt, and it is the strength of their understanding and compassion that I’ve leaned on. To the handlers – I thank you.
Third, I’m secure in the knowledge that Hondo loved the life he lived.
Hondo was a very driven dog whose purpose was filled by working. General patrol dog work came naturally to him, and he proved to be an excellent narcotics and firearms detection dog. He loved working with the VPD’s Public Order Unit, and he was fearless during the 2011 Stanley Cup Riot.
Hondo was motivated and determined. He was protective and, when he needed to be, fierce. He was loyal, friendly and sometimes goofy. Hondo was great with kids, and was known to cause mass giggling when he flopped over on his back in the middle of a kindergarten class to get his belly rubbed.
If looked at from a dog’s perspective, Hondo’s life was pretty cool.
Finally, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Not many have had the opportunity to work alongside a police dog, and it really is an experience like no other. I was blessed to have worked with such a wonderful animal.
To quote one reader, Hondo and I shared friendship, loyalty and love. For Hondo, it was a life time. For me, it was 8 years with no regrets and sweet memories.
The bond between handler and dog runs deep.
Some of you have asked if there will be a memorial service. There will not be, as those events are reserved for when a K9 is killed in the line of duty.
And that’s the way it should be.
I’ve also been asked if I will continue to blog and keep up with the Twitter account.
Here’s a firm “Yes” to both.
The job of policing continues after re-assignment and even after the loss of a partner. I’m not sure what my future holds, but I am sure of one thing – this blog will continue. Like policing and dog handling, writing is in my blood.
“When our time together is done
And you move on in the world,
Remember me with kind thoughts and tales.
For a time we were unbeatable,
Nothing passed among us undetected.
If we should meet again on another street,
I will gladly take up your fight.
I am a Police Working Dog, and together,
We are Guardians of the Night.”
– excerpt of poem, Guardians of the Night
Yesterday, December 31, 2012, Hondo and I went for a walk. It started as a run, but Hondo was too busy sniffing-this-and-peeing-on-that to keep up with me, so I slowed my pace and kept time with his exploring on both sides of the wooded trail.
Normally, Hondo runs alongside or slightly in front of me, but yesterday, he was like a pup with renewed interest in the flora and fauna of our regular route. It was a fine day, and I did not push him to keep up, nor did I scold him for lollygagging. Eventually, I simply walked while Hondo took time to stop and smell the world.
At about the halfway point, we came to a fork in the trail and I snapped a photo on my iPhone and Tweeted it with the caption “Which way do we go?”
It was a special photo, as Hondo actually sat and seemed to contemplate in which direction we should turn:
Now, 24 hours after I snapped that photo of my four-legged partner, I am left to make the journey on my own.
Hondo passed away this afternoon.
After struggling to get out of his dog house this morning, Hondo collapsed against my legs when he finally freed himself. His breathing was laboured, his gums were white, and he was suffering.
My dear, sweet dog, my faithful partner since 2005, was leaving me.
The vet who treated Hondo for the cancerous tumor on his spleen said that when the cancer came back, it would be very sudden. I would know when it was time.
Hondo was propped on his forelegs, labouring for breath. It was clear he had suffered a catastrophic setback – he made a soft cry with every breath.
It was time.
My husband gathered the kids. I made a couple of phone calls.
Then I lay beside Hondo on his bed in front of our fireplace. He lay his head in my hands and let out a whimper. My tears fell on his fur.
My husband drove us to the vet, and other dog handlers met us en route.
Red and blue lights flashed as a convoy of K9 SUV’s enveloped us in their midst to escort us for Hondo’s final call.
I was with Hondo until the very end.
Eight years of companionship, service and loyalty.
Curled around his back, I cradled his head and buried my face in the thick fur around his neck. Hondo managed one last nuzzle against the palm of my hand.
Then he was gone.
“He is your friend, your partner, your dog.
You are his life, his love, his leader.
He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.
You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”
– author unknown
Police Service Dog #0478 Hondo
March 7, 2004 – January 1, 2013
Here’s to a Merry Christmas to all of you, especially those working to keep the rest of us safe.
Somehow, I’ve managed to have the last couple of Christmas’s off and it’s been glorious.
I know firsthand what it’s like to work Christmas and other holidays, so I’m particularly thankful to my brothers and sisters in blue and in other emergency services/support agencies who are working today.
On a side note, we have been busy putting the final preparations on our family’s new addition.
Yes, we are getting another dog. Yes, you may call us crazy.
This has been in the works for over a year and it is FINALLY almost time to bring the little squirt home.
So far, her name is Noel (how appropriate, given the day!), but we may change it once she’s here. We’ve a plethora of names to pick from – we’ll wait and see which one suits her best.
She’s a Deutsch Kurzhaar (German ‘Registered’ Shorthair Pointer), and we’ve been waiting for her for a long time.
As you can tell from the above photo, certain dog breeds instinctually behave in certain ways – here, Noel is ‘pointing’ an upland bird feather just out of camera shot. Pretty cool, huh?
Now the only problem will be keeping Hondo from getting his nose bent out of shape when this little squirt gets preferential treatment for a few days on her arrival next week.
Tonight marks the beginning of the last week Police Dog Hondo and I will officially work together; Hondo is being retired (to me) and I am moving on to another division.
Due to department structure and logistics, Vancouver Police dog handlers are assigned to the Dog Squad for the duration of working with one police K9. There are exceptions, of course, if a handler’s dog falls to illness or injury within the first few years of service, but the majority of handlers are assigned to the section for the working life of their police dog.
I knew all of this going in to the Dog Squad and it doesn’t make it any easier.
But in a way, it does.
All along, I knew Hondo would be retired some time in 2013, the year he turns 9. I mentally prepared myself for a career-shift, but I had not counted on his retirement happening as early as the beginning of January. However, with circumstances the way they are, January suits Hondo and I just fine.
As many of you alreay know, Hondo has endured his share of health issues. He’s allergic to almost everything except chicken, he suffered from a near fatal immune disease in 2010 (Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia), and he had his spleen removed in November of this year.
I was purposely vague about his spleen removal, as I was hoping we would return to duty for a short time before retirement. You see, I’m a woman who believes in tradition and the Dog Squad is steeped in the stuff. There are certain things that take place during the last week and shift worked by a dog team, and, if Hondo was able, they are experiences I did not want either of us to miss.
Apparently, Hondo’s able.
He made a full recovery from his spleen removal and you would never know he underwent major surgey at the beginning of November. He’s full of beans and feeling fine. He is working, playing and living like he always has – at full speed.
What Hondo doesn’t know, thank goodness, is that he has cancer.
It’s slow moving and there are no obvious signs – no tumors (except for the small tumor on his spleen, both of which were removed), no lesions, no lethargy. But the signs are floating around in Hondo’s blood, so every day with him is a gift. We may have the next couple of years together, or my dear companion may gone by this summer.
All things considered, this last week at work means both of us get to go out on a high note.
Hondo gets to chase after a few more bad guys, and I get to spend another few shifts with my four-legged partner doing what we love.
Retired handlers have said the time to leave the Dog Squad is when you still love it.
And I do. I love it dearly. It saddens me to think I’ll never work with Hondo again after Thursday. In fact, it makes me quite anxious, and the butterflies have been rioting in my stomach the last few days.
But I’m also aware life changes, and sometimes a direction you thought you were headed in isn’t the correct decision for the moment. Hondo’s getting on, and it’s time for him to enjoy a very well deserved retirement. He’s ready to crash out on the big fluffy dog bed in front of our fireplace, and to being self-assigned the job of keeping starlings off the bird feeders in our back yard.
Me? That’ll be another challenge.
I still want to put bad guys in jail, or at least teach other officers the skills they’ll need to do the job. My future is a bit uncertain, but one thing I know – I’ll be learning new skills and awakening others that have been dormant for years. That’s exciting.
“The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.”
-Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
The Vancouver Police Dog Squad annual calendar sale is tomorrow morning.
I will be tweeting from one of the locations with live updates and more information. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking the link on the front page, or @BehindBlueLine.
Come on by and meet some of the handlers and police dogs, as well as our very helpful Community Police volunteers.
If you are unable to attend but would like to purchase a calendar, you may do so online at Studio Five-0.