I frequently write police training articles for different police magazines, often related to either community policing or K-9 operations. I almost never write in the first person, but made an exception this time.
One reason for this is the fact that as police officers we have become victims of the image we have created of ourselves. We have people believing we can handle any situation or individual single handedly, even if our opponent weighs 300 pounds, we can shoot the gun from the hands of moving suspects, and the emotions we encounter in our work have no effect on us.
This article shows a vulnerable side, which I too used to be reluctant to display, viewing this as a weakness I did not want exploited. But, after 41 years of policing and viewing the current wave of anti-cop animosity today, I feel it is important to show the human side of officers as well as the tough side.
– Chris Morrell
Another day in retirement. It starts like any other, up at five in the morning the way you did for years. You don’t turn on the lights in the bedroom because you don’t want to disturb your wife.
You peer intently through the gloom to see where your partner is. Is he still in his bed in the corner or did he get too warm and move over to the hardwood floor and sprawl out flat to keep cool.
Spotting him in the bedroom gloom is almost impossible with his coat that resembles a dark tweed. That is how he earned his nickname, “The Invisible Dog.”
I always wanted to take a photo of him standing in front of a hedge or laying in the darkness under a table in a fully lighted room and send it to the manufacturers of camouflage clothing. He was virtually invisible. Can the computer they use to create camouflage clothing patterns do as well?
I spot him and carefully move around him. He is stretched out full length on the floor. I quietly move on to the bathroom. I complete my morning routine and return to the bedroom. He has been listening and he knows it is his time. He laboriously gets to his feet. Fourteen years is old for a Shepherd, particularly one who spent more than ten years in the rough and tumble world as a patrol dog.
He slowly follows me back to the bathroom. Then he waits patiently for his teeth to be brushed. First one side, then the other, and finally the front ones. I make my usual crack about his Pepsodent smile and stoke his head. Now it is time to clean his eyes. I wet a paper towel with warm water and carefully clean each eye.
The next step is into the kitchen for our pills. Having retired as the oldest patrol dog handler in the United States at age 72, I have to take a bunch of pills to keep me going. Then it is my partner’s turn. I give him his pills and then treat his nose with a medication called Tacrolimus. It fights the autoimmune reaction that is an after effect of Lyme Disease.
Then we go out and to get in the car for the short trip to a local convenience store for an egg sandwich. As he rounds the house door as I swing it open, he falls but gets back up again. He has been falling more lately. I open the rear door of the car, but he can only get his front feet into the back seat. I lift his rear end in and we head off.
He waits in the car while I grab a quick egg sandwich. He likes the car and does not mind being left in it. I am glad nothing bad has ever happened to him in the car. In it he feels totally safe and secure. A lot of cops feel the same way, but we should know better.
A quick bite, and then back to the house. I have a busy day planned. Meet with a contractor in the morning and take my wife for cataract surgery in the early afternoon.
As soon as I park the car, I let him out of the back seat. He stumbles as usual getting out, but recovers and runs over on the lawn. Suddenly his back end falls over followed by the rest of his body. He tries to get up, but he can’t get his body positioned so his front legs help him. I see the look of panic in his eyes as he thrashes hopelessly. I rush over to him and put my hands on him, stroking him and speaking softly. He pauses in his struggles for a second and then I am able to guide him up. He walks unsteadily, like a very drunk man. I can see in his face he knows something it terribly wrong, but he doesn’t know what.
Holding him gently by the collar we walk to the door of the house. It is two steps up into the house and I have to help him. He goes to his food and water dishes. He takes a sip of water, then a few kibbles of dog food. Then he lies down on the floor, just staring ahead. He eyes are wide open. I can tell he still knows something is wrong.
I knew this day was coming. I didn’t want it to come, but he is my fifth patrol dog and I have been through it before. I knew it would arrive and there was nothing I could do about it.
In my mind I make the decision. A few minutes later I very slowly walk him to the car. I help him in and we drive to the vet. Once there, I leave him in the car and walk slowly into the office. The girl on the desk asks if she can help me. I ask to see the vet whom I have known for years. I explain the time has come for my old patrol dog. I have trouble talking and seeing too.
She says she will call the vet in. She isn’t actually scheduled to come in for another half-hour. She tells me to bring my partner into treatment room 1. I go out to the car and get him. As we walk back toward the office, he continues to stagger, but he is interested and sniffs where all the other dogs have peed. I walk very, very slowly and let him sniff.
We go to treatment room 1 and I let him sniff around in there. Eventually he lies down. He knows that something is wrong. His eyes are wide open. The girl from the front desk comes in with a box of tissues and sets them on the counter.
Eventually the vet comes in. I tell her what has happened. I made the decision, now I am seeking verification from a professional. She tells me she will be making the same decision for her old dog soon. I guess the decision is as tough for veterinarians as it is for street hardened cops with decades of police work behind them.
She brings in the euthanasia forms and I sign them. I tell her I would like him cremated. The Police Canine Association that I belong to picks up the cost for this.
She leaves the room but comes back shortly and provides a shot of valium to him to make things easier. I suggest for the intravenous shot, she and her assistant use his hind leg because he has less feeling there than in the front. I hold his head and stroke his ears, something he has always liked. I can feel his body is still tense. He still knows something is wrong. The shot is administered as I continue stroking his ears. My other hand is on his chest and I can feel his heartbeat getting weaker. Then it is gone.
The vet says I can stay as long as I like. I only stay a short time. My vision is going again and my breathing is screwed up. I rush out of the office calling out a quick thank you to the vet and her assistant thanking them.
Fortunately no one is coming in as I leave because I can feel my face is twisted into some bizarre and unfamiliar position. I can barely see to find my car in the lot. I hurl myself in when I get to it and make a mad grab for the box of tissues I keep there.
I get home. My wife meets me at the door. I didn’t take her with me because we were a team. He and I were a team right to the end. My wife gives me a big hug. She doesn’t say a word. She knows this is a personal thing that I have to resolve by myself.
I walk through the house. Looking into a corner of the kitchen I see his food bowl and water dish. My vision goes out of whack again. Was it just an hour ago he was using them?
I putter around the house gathering up some of his items. I write his obituary and email it to the people we worked with. I remove the bars that I had installed in the back windows of my personal car.
My wife is in the house, along with two cats, but the house has that empty feel to it. Each time I go out I turn to let him go out with me, but of course he isn’t there. Every time I go upstairs to my office I stop to see if he will want to go up with me because it was so difficult for him to climb the stairs.
Come evening my wife goes to bed early. I fix a strong drink and sit in the partially lit living room thinking about him. I gaze at the coffee table that he liked to rest his head under. I tell myself how lucky I have been to work over thirty-four years as a K-9 handler with five different dogs. It is true, but I don’t feel any better.
I go to bed. I see the dog bed in the corner. It looks forlorn without my partner in it. I wake up throughout the night. The bedroom is still. No toenails hit the floor, no sighs of contentment, no lapping of water. Just an empty room lit only by the dim moonlight.
I arise at my usual time. Out of habit I look carefully to avoid stepping on him. Then the sadness sets in. When I get to the bathroom my morning routine is much shorter now. There is only one set of teeth to brush, not two. No eyes to clean.
To try and get back on track, I go to the gym. When I walk in the woman at the desk tells me she has brought another “cookie” for him. She met him several months ago and fell in love with him. He was that kind of dog.
I feel like someone punched me. My vision suddenly goes all out of whack again and I tell her he is gone, but for some reason my voice is only able to squeeze out a few words. She bursts into tears and apologizes to me for bringing it up. She is really nice, and now I feel guilty about making her cry. I tell her briefly how the previous morning went.
I do my workout and go to leave. The woman and the gym manager are both at the desk. I stop and carry on a brief conversation with them about him. The problems with my vision, breathing and speaking have subsided. It’s a good thing the public doesn’t expect old cops to cry.